The ballots hitting Seattle mailboxes this week mark the first decision point in an election that will likely reverberate throughout the next decade of civic life in the Puget Sound region. The second round of district-based city council elections is being claimed by all sides as a moment when the tectonic plates of Seattle’s politics may shift in their favor. Nearly half of the council will be starting their first day of work next January.
So far the primary has been dominated by district-centric issues like the Magnolia Bridge replacement or the West Seattle light rail tunnel, but every single councilmember will become a possible swing vote on all of the issues facing Seattle during an unprecedented homelessness crisis, while the city stagnates on climate issues and slowly inches forward on transportation.
The eight members of The Urbanist elections committee asked candidates to submit questionnaires and meet for a short interview. We will be publishing the questionnaires in the coming days. We also reviewed all materials for the ballot measures voters will have to consider. The endorsements below are the result of our deliberations, considering every candidate or measure through the lens of our mission statement, to examine urban policy to improve cities and the quality of life in our region.
The Urbanist’s elections committee membership and endorsement process can be found here.
Seattle Library Levy: Approved
Seattle’s public library system used to be a national model: we had a famous city librarian in Nancy Pearl, we built a brand new Rem Koolhaus library downtown, we funded new branch construction and branch renovations around the city with Libraries for All. But Seattle has allowed its public library system, still a jewel of civic life in the city, to stagnate. Branch hours are still not back to the levels they were at before the Great Recession, even as overall city spending has more than rebounded for other departments. During an unprecedented boom, city leaders could not find the resources to ensure that the Delridge or New Holly library branches were open on Fridays.
The Seattle Public Library’s levy renewal is a chance to catch up. Nationwide, progressive library systems are dumping regressive and punitive library fines that are also a dwindling revenue source. This levy would add Seattle to that list by supplanting fines in the budget. The data shows that fines keep patrons away and are not effective at getting materials returned on time.
The levy would also allow much-needed investment in the technology that so many people depend on the public library to be able to access: WiFi hotspots that patrons are able to check out have been a huge success and this would allow that program to expand.
The city council also voted to add to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal for a mere sprinkling of additional branch hours: now a yes vote means that all branches would be open until 9pm Monday through Thursday, bringing them to the same closing time as most King County Library system branches.
Most of the levy funds would go toward maintaining the great services the library now offers, so a failure at the ballot would lead to more devastating cuts at the Seattle Public Library at a time when the library is a vital service to so many. We ask you to vote yes.
King County Parks Levy: Approved
This was basically a no-brainer: yes, we believe that King County parks and trails should be maintained and improved, and that equitable access to outdoor recreation and green space in the region is an important building block for great cities.
This levy will generate considerably more money over its six-year lifespan (about $810 million dollars from 2020-2025) than the levy it replaces. But that’ll look like just a $2.25 per month increase in tax on a $500,000 property, according to the county’s figures. It’s an exceedingly reasonable price for a system that maintains 200 parks, hundreds of miles of trails, and tens of thousands of acres of green space in our region. About 40% of levy funding is set to go toward operations and maintenance, because we fund the basics with levies like this. The rest will go toward improvements, new projects, and expansion, like increased accessibility and acquiring and protecting green space. A big focus is on connecting existing trails and improving crossings (think Eastside Rail Corridor, Lake to Sound Trail, and connections to the Burke-Gilman Trail) and it also includes $60 million in pass-through funding for parks in cities and towns.
The specific institutions getting funding from this year’s levy are like a checklist of the clip-art in any presentation about what makes the Pacific Northwest a great place to live—popular trailheads and large parks, the zoo and aquarium, city parks and rec budgets, and public pools. Fill in the “approved” bubble with gusto.
Seattle Council D1: No Endorsement
If you’re reading this and you live in Seattle City Council District 1, you’re probably going to vote for someone. Unfortunately we can’t tell you who that someone should be. Incumbent Lisa Herbold appears to be running a race against challengers who couldn’t even be bothered to complete our questionnaire, let alone showed up for an interview.
Herbold on the other hand, did complete the questionnaire and appeared for an interview. There is very little doubt on the election committee that she has a lot of integrity, takes her job very seriously, and works extremely hard. Ultimately though, we simply can’t tell urbanists to vote for someone who so frequently gets important housing, transportation and land use issues wrong. This could be a long list, but a few things come to mind.
She’s a big supporter of increasing the cost of Sound Transit’s West Seattle light rail line with tunneling while being elusive about just from whence that extra funding would come. This position is deeply problematic; a tunnel would risk the delivery timeline while providing minimal benefits. And meanwhile much of the city still isn’t served by light rail and has no dedicated funding to do so. A tunnel would siphon that money rather than turning attention to extending light rail to other parts of D1 like Westwood Village, High Point, and White Center.
She was also the primary opponent of expanding Seattle’s publicly-owned bikeshare citywide. After leading the charge to eliminate funding for publicly-owned bikeshare, the city council promised bike lanes on 4th Avenue. That hasn’t happened.
And while she’s a smart legislator, her understanding of council processes has been often used to hurt urbanist priorities, such as eliminating inclusionary zoning in parts of West Seattle and trolling other council members about parking requirements with amendments to bike parking. Perhaps most troubling, after decades of claiming to be pro-renter and pro-subsidized housing, she voted with seven other council members to repeal the head tax. It’s now been a year since that decision and the city council doesn’t have any solid proposals to address the gap in needed funding for affordable housing.
Of course the city council could do much worse than Herbold. She’s not bought by the Chamber of Commerce or a right wing reactionary. She’s led on a few renter issues such as support for fair chance housing. At the end of the day though, she too often hands power over to reactionary homeowner interests on the city council and that’s a tunnel too far for this board.
Seattle Council D2: Tammy Morales
District 2 has experienced the largest burden of displacement and it continues to shoulder an incredible amount of growth. With additional impacts to the Chinatown-International District from a new light rail station, candidates will certainly have their work cut out for them when it comes to being a strong voice for the most racially-diverse district in the city. To be this voice, The Urbanist is endorsing Tammy Morales.
Not only does Morales speak to the need to utilize the Race and Social Justice Toolkit more, but she gets it when it comes to how a racially-equitable outcome means the need for empowering the disenfranchised within the community. As an organizer for the Rainier Beach Action Coalition, Morales understands that there is a strong distinction between projects that happen to a community as opposed to with a community.
Given that displacement is a huge concern for many of the residents in this district, we appreciate her interest in approaching anti-displacement from a multi-pronged effort, both with increasing tenant rights and rental relocation assistance.
Again, we do want to stress that a number of candidates that have been involved with the City of Seattle can often speak to the Race and Social Justice Toolkit–and we love hearing new approaches to amplify and/or improve the use of the toolkit! Understanding how the process works from the city side is important but having someone who knows how communities can be empowered to have true ownership can go a long way. Vote Morales.
Seattle Council D3: Kshama Sawant
Councilmember Kshama Sawant takes a radically different approach to the job than anyone else who sits at the dais. Almost all of her opponents promise a more restrained agenda, focused on constituent services and collaborating more thoughtfully with other councilmembers.
While there are absolutely times when it appears that a lack of coordination between Kshama Sawant and others on the city council stymies policies from being as progressive and well-thought-out as they could be, we had to contrast this against the issues brought to the fore from the Sawant office.
It is hard to argue that anyone on the city council has been a more strident advocate of renters’ rights. She has highlighted immediate issues like evictions of low-income tenants at the Chateau Apartments in the Central District or the possible redevelopment of a mobile home park in North Seattle. She also spearheaded what might be the most impactful renter legislation in the last four years: move-in fee caps. Despite the criticism that she’s accomplished little, Sawant uses her office to make an impact.
Add to this the frequent and enthusiastic yes vote that we can depend on her to cast on almost all urbanist issues, from rezones to traffic safety to public transit, and we think she should stay right where she is. Councilmember Sawant will also become the longest-serving member on the city council if she were to be reelected, and that experience should count for a lot on a city council losing at least four of its members.
Some of her opponents have strong credentials and proposals but we did not find any that rose to the level of replacement as such a strident advocate for many urbanist causes. While there are certainly some clear issues where we will likely disagree with Councilmember Sawant–congestion pricing comes to mind–and we desperately hope she will find ways to work better with her colleagues and therefore be more effective, we have confidence that we will respect her decisions as they are almost always borne out of listening to impacted communities and putting their needs first. Vote Sawant.
Seattle Council D4: Shaun Scott and Cathy Tuttle
A whole slew of progressive urbanist candidates are running in District 4—and then there’s Alex Pedersen running a tough-on-crime, pro-apartment-ban blast-from-the-past campaign. We would have loved to see some of the D4 talent spread across other races rather than concentrating in one. However it has made for great conversations in this race. Ultimately, we could not settle on one candidate alone. The Urbanist endorses both Shaun Scott and Cathy Tuttle for City Council District 4.
More than any other candidate we’ve seen, Shaun Scott has blended socialism, urbanism, and climate justice into one coherent and captivating platform. Scott is a big proponent of social housing, but he’s also steadfast that broad rezones are needed to make our housing policy work. Scott is also stronger on police accountability and criminal justice reform than any other candidate in the race.
As a historian, Scott has combed Seattle’s past for clues about how to make grand progressive visions a reality. His series on Forward Thrust is an example of this and foreshadowed his campaign platform. While his platform is absolutely ambitious, he hasn’t shied away from the fights waiting for him to get the revenue needed for it. A critic of the head tax repeal, Scott has indicated he’s ready to take on Amazon and other large corporations rather than continue to let them hold a veto over new taxes.
Cathy Tuttle’s accomplishments and knowledge from decades of grassroots advocacy in the city means she is ready to hit the ground running on transportation and environmental issues. Tuttle was a founding member of Seattle 350 and built Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. The latter is a clear demonstration of how she envisions building power, with volunteer activists from every part of the city leading on specific issues in their neighborhood. Greenways secured millions of dollars for safe street improvements and successfully lowered city-wide speed limits to 20 mph on non-arterials. These wins show Tuttle’s incredible ability to work at all levels of power within the city and accomplish dramatic change.
Also spending almost a decade imagining a city with completely different streets is perhaps one of the most achievable but radical ways to change a city and this advocacy hints at how Tuttle sees change happening. Her views and strategies might be heterodox rather than orthodox within many urbanist circles and this can be seen with her initial public statements on golf courses that defend maintaining this land use adjacent to light rail stations.
Regardless, it’s hard not to see her as anything less than a visionary urbanist. She’s been leading the charge on big changes for decades.
Tuttle’s experience and Scott’s detailed but visionary agenda made choosing one candidate impossible. We feel entirely confident both would be excellent leaders on urbanist issues.
Seattle Council D5: No Endorsement
Debora Juarez has been an urbanist ally on mandatory affordability rezones and adding a North 130th Street infill Link station as soon as possible. Standing alongside Teresa Mosqueda and M. Lorena González, she was a firm voice as others tried to water down the rezones. Juarez seems to relish a fight. However, Juarez’s political sights can also be directed against urbanist agendas, such as when she indulges in anti-bike lane rants or dismisses criticism of an extravagant new police precinct building.
In her questionnaire, Juarez refused to side with safety advocates pleading with the city council to save lives on NE 35th Avenue. She insisted the concerns of business owners and landowners must be given extra weight no matter how late in the process or badly needed the safety upgrades are. We need to see more of a commitment to reducing traffic violence before we can endorse in this race, even with the dearth of serious competition.
Seattle Council D6: No Endorsement
If the problem we faced in District 4 was too many good candidates to choose between, the problem in District 6 was too few. It’s not for lack of options: fourteen people have declared for this race—by far the most for any city council seat this cycle. We appreciate the time candidates took to answer our questions, and credit them for their willingness to engage. We nonetheless decline to make an endorsement in this race.
The best of the candidates we spoke to was Melissa Hall, who spoke eloquently and movingly about her work as a lawyer and how it informs her thinking about land use, equity, and the role of government in our lives. We liked Hall, and agree with her on a number of important issues. But her odd belief that congestion pricing downtown would diminish safety (which flies in the face of the facts on the ground) and her relative inexperience with transportation policy more generally made us wary of her ability to serve as a committed advocate for our priorities if elected to city council. Hall’s questionnaire responses are here.
Jay Fathi also recommended himself to us with the air of thoughtful geniality and competence he brought to his interview. If you’re looking for a doctor, you could do far worse than Fathi. But his answers tended to obscure, rather than illuminate, his positions on issues and at one point—in conversation about the Burke-Gilman Trail’s Missing Link—he explicitly said that his campaign advisers had recommended that he not take a position on the issue, and so he would not. Candidly uncandid–a novel approach!
We were also concerned by the degree to which Fathi played the innocent on the issue of progressive revenue sources. It’s not enough to call for everyone to come together around the table to do some fact-finding on this issue. Everyone’s already at the table—the question is who’s going to pick up the check when dinner’s over. If elected, Fathi seems very likely to stay friendly with everyone he meets. He was friendly with us. But we’d have liked him a little bit better if he were clearer about who his enemies are. Fathi’s questionnaire responses are here.
You may remember Heidi Wills from the way her first term on city council ended back in 2003. We will remember that she named three additional types of golf (foot, frisbee, and mini) when asked for alternative uses for the Jefferson Park golf course. Despite some encouraging answers on the importance of density born out of deeply-felt personal experience and—again—our appreciation for her willingness to come speak with us in the first place, nothing in her interview or questionnaire gave us the sense that she will be anything less than a committed advocate for the Chamber of Commerce and for reactionary homeowners in D6. That simply won’t work for us. Wills’ questionnaire responses are here.
Seattle Council D7: Michael George
The scene opens at night with the camera panning across city lights. Saxophone plays. Are we describing the music video for George Michael’s classic, “Careless Whisper?” Or a montage from the life of downtown resident Michael George, Seattle City Council candidate for District 7, whom we would not put it past to play the saxophone?
Michael George used his time with us to enthusiastically articulate several specific and workable ideas that could move the needle on housing affordability. One example is his plan to densify Magnolia with homeowner support, allowing folks to age-in-community; it’s probably the perfect burden for him.
We question his idea that Sound Transit should be able to acquire land for affordable housing entirely separate from transit, as that agency is struggling to meet its basic obligations and may have an identity crisis if we all decide it’s now the region’s affordable housing provider as well. We also hope he won’t waste too much air (or money) on the Magnolia Bridge, which all candidates in D7 are supporting.
However, we are mainly supporting Michael for his concise and clear plan for regional affordable housing funding tied to state requirements (and associated threat of sanctions) a la the Growth Management Act. It’s a low bar, but we didn’t really hear any other candidates articulate a scheme with the same reach and practicality. Michael was also the only candidate we interviewed who supports completion of the Center City Connector streetcar, aside from a tepid “I won’t relitigate” from the uninspiring Andrew Lewis, who seemed to want to win the votes of the Center City Connector’s opponents without committing either way.
We encourage Michael George to ponder the lyrics George Michael wrote in 1984: “Though it’s easy to pretend / I know you’re not a fool / I should have known better than to cheat a friend / And waste a chance that I’d been given.” We note that Speak Out Seattle has endorsed him (“well aligned with SOS’s advocacy position”) and pray that he has not been saying things behind our backs to please those who oppose generally good ideas such as tiny house villages and safe consumption sites. Don’t cheat your urbanist friends, Michael. And don’t waste the chance you’re being given. Vote George.
King County Council D4: Abigail Doerr
Did you know that King County Council oversees 2.2 million residents and decides how to allocate an $11.7 billion biennial budget? The King County Council is an often overlooked government body that makes huge housing, transportation, and climate decisions that impact our region.
The Urbanist endorses Abigail Doerr for King County Council District 4. Doerr’s do-er energy and transportation and climate expertise makes her a strong urbanist leader.
Doerr successfully led the Mass Transit Now campaign in 2016, securing $54 billion for light rail, bus rapid transit, and commuter rail expansion in the Puget Sound region, along with a handful of other successful campaigns that expanded transit options throughout the state. As Advocacy Director at Transportation Choices Coalition, Doerr has experience working with a wide range of decision-makers and building strong coalitions to pass bold intersectional policies. Through her recent work as the Campaign Director for Yes on 1631, the statewide carbon emissions fee initiative, Doerr understands what’s at stake for future generations and the pressing need to act on climate now. While I-1631 failed statewide, it did secure 57.8% of the vote in King County giving us hope for near-term climate action at the county level. Doerr impressed us with her vision to pass a countywide climate policy and required urgency prompting us to take risks and go big on climate like our lives depend on it (yes, they do).
With that said, we wished Doerr was running against someone else. Jeanne Kohl-Welles has served as State Senator and Representative before her term on King County Council and has a good track record on urbanist issues, but she does not seem to approach legislating with the urgency required by the climate catastrophe. As climate change spreads like wildfire–it’s unfortunately time to order your masks–we need a King County Councilmember who is pushing for bold policies and not complacent with the status quo. Read Jeanne Kohl-Welles’ questionnaire responses here.
Abigail has a long list of urbanist accomplishments and isn’t even 30 years old. As a car-free renter, climate and transportation advocate, we believe Doerr will add a different perspective and fresh energy to a sleepy King County Council. We are confident that Abigail Doerr will elevate urbanist issues on a county level. Vote Doerr.
Seattle Port Commission Position 2: Preeti Shridhar
We’re so convinced Preeti Shridhar is the right person to serve on the open seat on Seattle’s Port Commision because two years ago we endorsed her for the same job. As we wrote then: “Shridhar’s positions stand out. She wants to reduce the carbon footprint of the port by investing in biofuels for airplanes and converting cargo drayage trucks to natural gas. Shridhar is open to tolling Sea-Tac’s airport drive to reduce congestion and fund alternatives and also is willing to go on the record to oppose Port of Seattle funding for car-only transportation investments.”
The Port Commission still needs strong environmental leadership. We have come a long way from Bill Bryant opposing the Shell No protests, with new leaders like Ryan Calkins showing the path forward, but there is still much to be done to get a handle on the oversized share of transportation emissions that the Port has control over. Preeti’s insights on the burdens Port facilities place on communities of color is also something that is still lacking at the Port. Just like she was in 2017, she is the best candidate in this race. Vote Shridhar.
The Urbanist Election Board is composed of Michael Austin, Hayley Bonsteel, Keiko Budech, Anna Minard, Owen Pickford, Ryan Packer, Doug Trumm, and Rian Watt.