Debora Juarez (pictured right) is the new Seattle City Council President, as favored by Mayor Bruce Harrell to her left. The picture was taken in 2016 during a Standing Rock pipeline protest. (Credit: Seattle City Council Flickr)

Yesterday the Seattle City Council unanimously elected Debora Juarez as Council President after a unusually concerted and public campaign that included lobbying from Seattle Times Editorial Board and freshly inaugurated Mayor Bruce Harrell. Juarez is the first Indigenous person to serve as Council President in Seattle’s history. Striking a similar tone to Harrell, most Councilmembers stressed unity and collaboration in their comments (video here).

In fact, it was Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Lisa Herbold, two of the members of the progressive wing of the council, that nominated Juarez, who often votes with the centrist wing. Herbold was Juarez’s major rival, but never publicly campaigned for the spot as the Juarez camp did. Both women joined City Council after prevailing in the 2015 election. Calling her a friend and mentor, Mosqueda framed Juarez’s presidency as furthering the cause of housing justice.

“I appreciate the joint interest that you and I share in creating a denser city, a city that allows more families to live here, for elders to live here, for more workers to be in our city,” Mosqueda said in her nomination. “A city that strives to broaden and strengthen workplace standards and protections for our most vulnerable and to support small, diverse businesses.”

Council committee assignments largely stayed the same, which doesn’t come as a shock but was a last-minute reveal since the legislation was walked on during the meeting rather than being released publicly ahead of time as is customary and in line with transparency laws and guidelines, as PubliCola‘s Erica Barnett highlighted. Mosqueda appears set to keep her influential budget chair position, with no changes announced on that front. Despite the Seattle Times Editorial Board calling for her ouster (fuming over her occasional openness to trimming the Seattle Police Department’s budget), Herbold kept her position at public safety chair.

New member Sara Nelson was given chair of a committee named “Economic Development, Technology, and City Light” and vice chair of Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee, which will continue to be chaired by Councilmember Kshama Sawant after she narrowly survived the recall attempt against her. Nelson will also sit on Councilmember Mosqueda’s Finance and Housing Committee, Councilmember Dan Strauss’ Land Use Committee, Councilmember Tammy Morales’ reshuffled Neighborhoods, Education, Civil Rights, and Culture Committee, and Councilmember Herbold’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee.

Trading Nelson for now departed Council President M. Lorena González could shift the balance on council and on some committees. The fact that the Land Use Committee loses Juarez but gains Nelson which won’t necessarily be an even trade based on Nelson’s more defensive posture around zoning reform. However, she has also signaled some support for increasing density: “I support targeting new housing growth along frequent transit corridors and in urban centers and facilitating the creation of ‘missing middle’ housing such as backyard cottages, duplexes, and townhomes,” Nelson said in her housing plan during her campaign.

Previously the maximum single-family house size in Portland was a 6,750 square feet. The infull project lowers the square footage cap for single-family homes to 2,500 square feet but allow duplexes up to 3,000 square feet and 3- and 4-plexes and cottage clusters up to 3,500 square feet. If developers meet the affordability requirement, the cap goes up to 6,000 square feet for up to six homes. Parking request are optional.
Portland’s Residential Infill Project, passed in 2020, allows a variety of “Missing Middle” housing types like fourplexes in any residential lot in the city. Mayor Harrell and Councilmember Nelson came out against such a change in Seattle during their successful 2021 campaigns. (Credit: Alfred Twu / Sightline Institute)

The transportation committee will continue to be chaired by Councilmember Alex Pedersen, despite objections raised by some multimodal advocacy groups. Concerns raised two years ago were borne out as Pedersen pushed to divert bike and pedestrian funding toward a not fully fleshed out bridge maintenance plan and hasn’t done much as pedestrian safety crisis has worsened and the city has drifted farther from its Vision Zero goal of ending traffic deaths by 2030. Sawant will replace González on this committee, which avoids a rightward shift. However, with the remainder of the committee staying the same, we can probably expect similar actions overall.

The streetcar is another issue to watch: Sawant has been a critic of the Center City streetcar project, which provides a majority on the committee along with frequent critics Herbold and Pedersen. However, with a recent infusion of planning funding to restart the project after numerous Durkan delays, the streetcar may not come up for a consequential vote in the next two years. Back in 2019, Mayor Durkan pushed the project timeline to 2026 and her second pause of the project in 2020 may have delayed it further. The project is essentially shovel-ready and just needs to re-secure federal grants forfeited by Durkan’s delays and close a funding shortfall that had been estimated at $65 million in 2019.

Seattle streetcar in Pioneer Square, where it will continue to terminate until the City of Seattle gets its act together and finishes the Center City Connector extension. (Doug Trumm)

In other tweaks, Councilmember Lewis’ select committee on homelessness was upgraded to a regular committee and also given the topic area of public assets. Morales’ committee is taking on education, which had been in González’s committee. Sawant will no longer have Councilmember Pedersen, who often butted heads and sought to water down and add loopholes to tenant rights legislation, on her committee, but may find a similar foe in Vice Chair Nelson.

In his reaction, Mayor Harrell stressed the good working relationship he had with Juarez, who overlapped for the second half of his 12-year career on City Council.

“I worked closely with Councilmember Juarez on the City Council, and I know she is a listener, collaborator, and someone focused on getting things done for our Seattle community,” Harrell said in a statement. “I am ecstatic to work with her again as we urgently address issues of homelessness and public safety and strive for a united Seattle.”

Below are the committee rosters:

Land Use Committee (2nd and 4th Wednesdays at 2pm)

  • Chair: Dan Strauss
  • Vice Chair: Tammy Morales
  • Member: Teresa Mosqueda
  • Member: Alex Pedersen
  • Member: Sara Nelson

Transportation & Seattle Public Utilities Committee (1st and 3rd Tuesdays 9:30am)

  • Chair: Alex Pedersen
  • Vice Chair: Dan Strauss
  • Member: Kshama Sawant
  • Member: Lisa Herbold
  • Member: Tammy Morales

Neighborhoods, Education, Civil Rights, and Culture Committee (3rd Tuesdays at 2pm)

  • Chair: Tammy Morales
  • Vice Chair: Sara Nelson
  • Member: Debora Juarez
  • Member: Kshama Sawant
  • Member: Alex Pedersen

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

  • Chair: Teresa Mosqueda
  • Vice Chair: Lisa Herbold
  • Member: Alex Pedersen
  • Member: Sara Nelson
  • Member: Andrew Lewis

Economic Development, Technology, and City Light Committee (2nd and 4th Wednesdays 9:30am)

  • Chair: Sara Nelson
  • Vice Chair: Debora Juarez
  • Member: Dan Strauss
  • Member: Kshama Sawant
  • Member: Lisa Herbold

Governance, Native Communities, & Tribal Governance Committee (3rd Thursdays 2pm)

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

Public Assets & Homelessness Committee (1st and 3rd Wednesdays 2pm)

  • Chair: Andrew Lewis
  • Vice Chair: Teresa Mosqueda
  • Member: Tammy Morales
  • Member: Lisa Herbold
  • Alternate: Debora Juarez

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

  • Chair: Lisa Herbold
  • Vice Chair: Andrew Lewis
  • Member: Teresa Mosqueda
  • Member: Alex Pedersen
  • Member: Sara Nelson

Sustainability & Renters Rights Committee (1st and 3rd Fridays 9:30am)

  • Chair: Kshama Sawant
  • Vice Chair: Sara Nelson
  • Member: Tammy Morales
  • Member: Debora Juarez
  • Member: Andrew Lewis

The weekly full council meetings will not be held on Tuesday at 2:00pm instead of Monday. Council briefings will still be held on Monday, but at 2pm instead of 9:30am. The change was to allow both members of the public and council staff more time to prepare for full council meetings, hopefully leading to less Sunday night scrambling to throw last-minute amendments or bills together.

The featured image is via the Seattle City Council Flickr and is in the public domain.

Update: This article has been corrected to state that Council Briefing will be at 2pm now.

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Article Author
Executive Director

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.