Council to Vote Monday on Committee Assignments with Pedersen Transportation Chair

Green New Deal and Seattle Streetcar supporters drove turn out at this transportation committee hearing. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

Update: The Seattle City Council unanimously passed the proposed committee assignments on Monday, January 6th and elected M. Lorena González as Council President. The structure detailed below is the final one. Additionally note that Councilmember Andrew Lewis will chair the Select Committee on Homelessness, which lessens the sting of not being tapped for any of the eight standing committees.

Seattle elected four new members to the city council in November and that means a major shakeup in committee assignments. The city council will determine those assignments Monday in its first meeting of the new year.

Councilmember M. Lorena González appears set to be elected Council President and she sponsored the resolution setting committee rosters. If her resolution stands without amendment, Alex Pedersen will chair the Transportation and Utilities Committee, with Dan Strauss as vice chair. Councilmembers Tammy Morales, Lisa Herbold, and González would also sit on transportation committee, and Debora Juarez would be an alternate, barring any changes to the resolution.

Pedersen being tapped for transportation chair did set off some multimodal advocates.

“This is really disappointing,” Robert Cruikshank said in a tweet. “Why hand such a crucial committee to the political outlier–who has a long record of opposing the city’s longstanding transportation policy? We didn’t fight hard to win the 2019 elections for outcomes like this.”

Pedersen snubbed several transportation groups’ questionnaires and endorsements processes—The Urbanist included—and he skipped the candidate forum on transportation policy organized by the Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) coalition–of which The Urbanist is a founding member. Pedersen’s platform had several red flags including floating the idea of re-instituting parking minimums in urban villages and transit nodes, where Seattle has waived parking requirements. He also cited the 35th Avenue NE road redesign (also known as the Durkan Speedway) as a model to emulate–even though it’s made the street more dangerous and damaged trust with safe streets advocates.

Broad committee shakeups

The committee shakeup was inevitable given that four of nine councilmembers are new. Three of them–Morales, Strauss, and Andrew Lewis–assumed office this month, and Pedersen was actually sworn in right after election results were certified on November 26th since he was replacing a temporary councilmember (Abel Pacheco) after Rob Johnson resigned before his term was up. Johnson took a job with NHL Seattle planning transportation infrastructure around the new arena.

The committees have been renamed and some have seen their focus altered significantly. Transportation is being paired with “Utilities” whereas under Chair Mike O’Brien it had been dubbed “Sustainability and Transportation.” Previously Seattle’s two public utilities had been split with Seattle Public Utilities nested under Councilmember Herbold’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development & Arts Committee and Seattle City Light under Councilmember Mosqueda’s Housing, Health, Energy & Workers’ Rights committee. As of Monday, both utilities are slated to be under Councilmember Pedersen’s committee.

Here is the committee roster that the council will be voting on this Monday. (Credit: City of Seattle)
Here is the committee roster that the council will be voting on this Monday. (Credit: City of Seattle)

Community Economic Development Committee (3rd Tuesday at 2pm)

  • Chair: Tammy Morales
  • Vice Chair: Andrew Lewis
  • Member: Debora Juarez
  • Member: Kshama Sawant
  • Member: Alex Pedersen
  • Alternate: Lisa Herbold

Finance & Housing Committee (1st and 3rd Tuesdays at 9:30am)

  • Chair: Teresa Mosqueda
  • Vice Chair: Lisa Herbold
  • Member: Lorena González
  • Member: Andrew Lewis
  • Member: Dan Strauss
  • Alternate: Tammy Morales

Governance & Education Committee (2nd Tuesday 2pm)

  • Chair: Lorena González
  • Vice Chair: Debora Juarez
  • Member: Kshama Sawant
  • Member: Teresa Mosqueda
  • Member: Dan Strauss
  • Alternate: Andrew Lewis

Land Use & Neighborhoods Committee (2nd and 4th Wednesday at 9:30am)

  • Chair: Dan Strauss
  • Vice Chair: Teresa Mosqueda
  • Member: Debora Juarez
  • Member: Andrew Lewis
  • Member: Alex Pedersen
  • Alternate: Lorena González

Public Assets & Native Communities Committee (1st Tuesday 2pm)

  • Chair: Debora Juarez
  • Vice Chair: Alex Pedersen
  • Member: Kshama Sawant
  • Member: Teresa Mosqueda
  • Member: Lisa Herbold
  • Alternate: Dan Strauss

Public Safety & Human Services Committee (2nd and 4th Tuesday at 9:30am)

  • Chair: Lisa Herbold
  • Vice Chair: Lorena González
  • Member: Kshama Sawant
  • Member: Tammy Morales
  • Member: Andrew Lewis
  • Alternate: Alex Pedersen

Sustainability & Renters Rights Committee (4th Tuesday 2pm)

  • Chair: Kshama Sawant
  • Vice Chair: Tammy Morales
  • Member: Debora Juarez
  • Member: Andrew Lewis
  • Member: Alex Pedersen
  • Alternate: Teresa Mosqueda

Transportation & Utilities Committee (1st and 3rd Wednesday 9:30am)

  • Chair: Alex Pedersen
  • Vice Chair: Dan Stauss
  • Member: Lorena González
  • Member: Lisa Herbold
  • Member: Tammy Morales
  • Alternate: Debora Juarez

Rumors had been swirling for weeks that Pedersen was going to be transportation chair. Some safe streets advocates pressed for a different selection, but they were rebuffed. Some powerbrokers saw the Transportation and Utilities Committee as a relatively safe space to stash Alex Pedersen, who is the most conservative member of the city council on many issues.

Housing policy avenues

An alternative of putting Pedersen in charge of land use committee seemed even more risky–Strauss got land use chair and the committee appears poised to tackle further zoning reform.

Housing and land use reform is likely to be a priority for the incoming city council. With the exception of Pedersen, councilmembers generally won by flexing tenant power and running up the score in renter-heavy multifamily zones. Strauss, Lewis, and Morales have all expressed interest in promoting missing middle housing types in single-family zones. They’ll join a strong coalition for housing reform that already exists in Mosqueda, González, Juarez, and Kshama Sawant, all of whom stood firm in passing Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) rezones across the city.

Councilmember Mosqueda chairs the Finance and Housing Committee, which is an important workhorse committee that meets twice a month, and the likeliest route for a new affordable housing revenue source–whether a head tax or payroll tax or otherwise. Pedersen, a frequent critic of new revenue sources, is not on that committee.

Sawant, who championed rent control in her campaign that scored a dramatic come-from-behind victory, chairs the Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee. While the Washington State Legislature, despite complete Democratic control, has opted to maintain a statewide rent control ban up to this point. Sawant has vowed to pass rent control anyway to pressure the state into rescinding the ban. A winter eviction ban is another pro-renter policy Sawant has brought forward, and further eviction reform is also under consideration.

What this means for transportation policy

The hope is that the progressive combination of González, Morales, and Strauss can still guide policy on transportation policy even if Pedersen is less cooperative and forward-thinking. That progressive consensus could be harder to build on certain hot button issues like the Center City Connecror streetcar project, which Herbold has dedicated herself to undermining and stopping if she can.

Another issue likely to be fraught is adding protected bike lanes, particularly in outlying city council districts where candidates ran and won on platforms skeptical of bike network expansion plans–Pedersen, Herbold, and Juarez are all in that group. Vice Chair Strauss, meanwhile, staked out a tortured position on the Burke-Gilman Trail’s Missing Link extension wherein he opposed the popular South Shilshole alternative but said he wouldn’t necessarily intervene against the project, which should be done in late 2020 if everything goes smoothly.

Pedersen’s power on transportation policy would be limited by a dearth of regional committee postings. Debora Juarez will continue to be tapped for the important Sound Transit Board seat–likely with hopes she’ll shepherd through a 2024 opening of a N 130th St Link station. Seattle’s contingent on the King County Regional Transit Committee, meanwhile, will be Juarez and Strauss, with Lewis an alternate.

Nonetheless, Pedersen will be in a position of power when it comes to Seattle’s direction on transportation policy. While he won’t be able to singlehandedly dictate policy, he will be able to put his finger on the scale in numerous ways–such as which hearings he holds, who he invites to speak at those hearings, and who he appoints to modal boards like the Bike Advisory Council and the Pedestrian Advisory Council. It’s a less than ideal situation that has many advocates lamenting that District 4 didn’t elect Shaun Scott, who came up four points short.

This article has been updated to note that management of Seattle’s two utilities was previously split between two different committees.

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Doug Trumm is The Urbanist's Executive Director. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.

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Jules James

The bigger story here are the committees themselves. Only eight. And organized logically. For the past few years each Councilperson was given a standing committee specially mandated to create personal political fiefdoms. The Utilities Committee included Civil Rights. Housing was in one committee, Renter Rights in another. “Equity”, “Gender Equity”, “Equitable Development”, “Workers’ Rights”, “Sustainability” and “Civic Development” were some of the 28 policy areas seemingly scattered among committees like blindfolded draws out of a hat. But they were not. With every councilperson holding a gavel over a custom-designed committee, way too many half-baked ideas survived. Councilperson Gonzalez deserves credit for proposing a structure for good governance rather than chiding for not upholding the Urbanist point of view.