Mayor Jenny Durkan had her one-year anniversary in office on Wednesday so apparently that means it’s report card season.
The Seattle Times started that train Sunday with a Daniel Beekman piece with the optimistic headline “After political storms in first year, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan may be building momentum.” Mayor Durkan’s marked the anniversary herself on Wednesday and had nearly every City agency tweet out a graphic touting her successes and linking to a blogpost called “One Year of Urgent Action.” Crosscut’s David Kroman followed that up Thursday with a more fence-sitting headline “Micromanager or Mastermind? Mayor’s first year gets mixed reviews.” At Civic Cocktail, Mayor Durkan said Seattle deserves an A+, but stopped short of grading herself directly, saying she is “catching up.”
Since the other periodicals are doing it, The Urbanist will weigh in too: Mayor Durkan deserves an “D” for her first year’s performance. While her own review may be titled “One Year of Urgent Action,” in actuality her first year was defined by delay tactics, inaction, and a shroud of secrecy over decision making, including a recent revelation that Durkan staff have bucked public disclosure law to obscure their head tax machinations.
And what a result it was! What could have been a steady annual source of about $75 million to fund affordable housing and homelessness services was halved and sunsetted by Durkan to a five-year package worth $250 million and then promptly flushed down the toilet and into Elliott Bay. So what’s Mayor Durkan doing instead for homeless and housing insecure folks? Well, she’s still working on a regional solution, just like Mayor Ed Murray did for most of his term. She’s also delivered 73 of the 1,000 tiny homes she promised for her first year while on the campaign trail. Only 927 short.
High atop the agonizing delay list is Mayor Durkan decision to delay the Center City streetcar repeatedly. She is still refusing to make a decision, which at least means it isn’t dead yet, but you don’t get points for torturing a decision. And beyond delaying, Mayor Durkan seemed to be actively trying to undermine public confidence in the project, by publicly doubting her own agency’s ability to fit a streetcar vehicle into a streetcar track and casting doubt on ridership projections, and hinting at alternative solutions which she still hasn’t revealed to the public. (Here’s our full case for the Center City streetcar.)
That’s the tip of the delay iceberg. Under Durkan’s watch, 4th Avenue protected bike lanes, a centerpiece of both the Basic Bike Network and One Center City, were delayed. Another key Basic Bike Network connection–a connection to Southeast Seattle–advanced but only in a stunted form since the route selected goes up a extremely steep hill instead of picking flatter alternatives that existed.
A 35th Avenue SW safety project was watered down, and bikes lanes on 35th Avenue NE where paused, delayed for mediation, and still stuck on the mayor’s desk. There’s been so many delays and so much backsliding that the Mayor’s office is digging into the thesaurus. That’s how shelving plans for uphill bike lanes on N 40th St got a “stepback.”
Mayor Durkan also delayed delivery for promised Move Seattle RapidRide lines, scaling back upgrade plans for at least three of them. True, the budget situation she inherited wasn’t great, but rather than scrounge up funds or delay more carcentric projects like the Lander Street Overpass, she balanced the budget on the backs of essential transit projects.
Even finding a permanent director for the Seattle Department of Transportation has been delayed. There have been three SDOT directors in Durkan’s first year alone. Scott Kubly was ousted a few weeks into her term; Goran Sparrman filled in until August, and Linea Laird (formerly WSDOT’s project administrator for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement) took over on interim basis while Durkan’s search for a permanent SDOT director putts along. The lack of permanent leadership surely can’t be helping to deal with numerous challenges SDOT faces.
Some might say Durkan is failing, but the silver lining in delay is there some the mayor can rectify and get right in her second year by dispensing with the suspense and making good decisions with actual urgency.
The featured image of Mayor Jenny Durkan strapping into a Blue Angels jet is by Petty Officer 1st Class Ian Cotter.
The Urbanist was founded in 2014 to examine and influence urban policies. We believe cities provide unique opportunities for addressing many of the most challenging social, environmental, and economic problems. We serve as a resource for promoting and disseminating ideas, creating community, increasing political participation, and improving the places we live.