City Council Races Shape Up as Progressives Versus Chamber-Homevoter Alliance

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After the Primary Election, 14 candidates remain for seven Seattle City Council contests. The race has shaped up to be a showdown between Seattle Times-endorsed candidates and those backed by The Stranger. Final Primary results didn’t include any reversals from the early Seattle City Council returns we reported on election night. Progressive candidates did gain vote share in late results, as is typical, which meant widening leads for the progressive candidates (or a shrinking gap in Shaun Scott’s case).

Final Primary Results

District 1: Lisa Herbold (incumbent) 50.6%, Phil Tavel 32.3%

District 2: Tammy Morales 50.1%, Mark Solomon 23.2%

District 3: Kshama Sawant (incumbent) 36.7%, Egan Orion 21.5%

District 4: Alex Pedersen 40.4%, Shaun Scott 23.3%

District 5: Debora Juarez (incumbent) 45.1%, Ann Davison Sattler 26.7%

District 6: Dan Strauss 34.2%, Heidi Wills 21.3%

District 7: Andrew Lewis 31.7%, Jim Pugel 24.8%

Save for District 4, The Stranger-endorsed candidate came in first, while those anointed by The Seattle Times came in second. Pedersen’s 17-point advantage appears formidable, but District 4 voters may flock to Scott as they realize how out of step with the district Pedersen is on a number of issues, such as transit. I recently reviewed his opposition to Sound Transit 3, the Move Seattle transportation levy, and the Bike Master Plan. A younger electorate (with University of Washington back in session) should also be a boost to Scott. Like The Stranger, The Urbanist Election Board endorsed Scott, Morales, and Sawant in the Primary.

Shifting political coalitions

Daniel Beekman, a political reporter for The Seattle Times, has argued Seattle political power is derived from four main factions–business, labor, social justice activists, and neighborhood groups–and a candidate typically needs at least two to win. It’s a simplification, but it’s useful in understanding what’s going on this election.

“Neighborhood groups” is a bit vague and euphemistic; homevoters is a bit more precise given the desire to maintain single-family zoning, parking requirements, and “neighborhood character” that seems to be a major motivation for this constituency. Adapting Beekman’s framework, the four factions (and the biggest endorsements typically indicating this constituency’s support) are:

  • Business (Seattle Chamber endorsement)
  • Labor (MLK Labor Council endorsement)
  • Social justice advocates (The Stranger endorsement)
  • Homevoters (Seattle Times endorsement)

Business and labor leaders forged an alliance that swept Ed Murray into power and ousted Mike McGinn in 2013, and Mayor Jenny Durkan continued to rely on that alliance to ride into power in 2017. Like Murray, Mayor Durkan also dominated single-family neighborhoods, showing homevoters were on her side. In both races, some unions peeled off to support the more progressive candidate, but splitting the labor vote was key to centrist victories.

Mercer Megablock Proceeds Should Fulfill Broken Transportation Promises

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Alexandria envisions a mixed-use life science campus. (Credit: Alexandria Real Estate)

Last Friday, the largest land deal for the City in decades moved out of committee, on its way to sure approval at next Monday’s city council meeting. The $143 million deal would permanently turn over thee parcels in South Lake Union over to Alexandria Real Estate to build housing and office space. At the meeting, the two councilmembers present, Kshama Sawant and Mike O’Brien, both spent time lamenting the fact that Seattle could not somehow hold onto the property and develop housing there itself. The project marks the second time in Mayor Jenny Durkan’s term that a publicly-owned parcel in the fastest-growing part of town has been sold off to provide one-time homelessness funds: $5 million in this case.

The Mercer Megablock is also unique in that the City believes that a large chunk of the money has to be devoted to transportation, specifically “highway purposes,” due to the source of the original funds to purchase the right-of-way for Mercer construction. Others, including former city council staffer Michael Maddux, disagree with this assessment but it appears likely that the Mayor will follow guidance of her budget director, Ben Noble, who espouses this view. That means nearly $26 million could be invested in transportation.

Breakdown in available funds once the Mercer Megablock deal goes through. (City of Seattle)

The city council clearly has a big stake in how this money is apportioned, with the Mayor set to propose an initial budget that includes these fund sources in the coming weeks. They should ensure that no matter what is initially proposed by the Mayor that these transportation dollars go toward filling the funding gaps left by cost overruns and optimistic assumptions in the Move Seattle levy.

Monthly Meetup This Tuesday Featuring the MASS Coalition

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MASS Coalition member Anna Zivarts of Rooted in Rights speaks at Ride for Safe Streets earlier this summer. (Credit: MASS Coalition)

This month The Urbanist will be joined by the MASS Coalition (Move All Seattle Sustainably) at our monthly meetup 5:30pm Tuesday. We will be talking about The MASS Transportation Package, a proposal from the coalition to make walking, rolling, biking, and using transit in Seattle safer and more accessible. It’s not a comprehensive vision for transportation in Seattle, but it is a set of projects and policies we believe the City can advance rapidly in 2019. The package includes long overdue policy reforms and investments in sidewalks, bus lanes, and bike paths that our growing city needs.

Three MASS-sponsored resolutions have already been passed by City Council. Here’s what those three resolutions do, as MASS members described in an op-ed:

Seattle’s Resilience Roadmap Lacks a Cohesive Vision for the Future

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Credit: Seattle - Future City: Resilience Roadmap

I first learned about the release of the Seattle – Future City: Resilience Roadmap from an article published by Smart Cities Dive. Previous to that I had heard the term “urban resilience” thrown around quite a bit, but I did not know that Seattle had been chosen back in 2016 to join 100 Resilient Cities (100RC), a global network of cities formulating urban resilience strategies funded by the Rockefeller Foundation–which has a $4 billion endowment seeded from the fortune John D. Rockefeller, Sr. amassed operating an oil monopoly during the Gilded Age.

According to 100RC, urban resilience is defined as “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.”

100 Resilient Cities created a City Resilience Framework that intended provide definition on what characteristics distinguish resilient cities. (Credit 100 Resilient Cities)

From social and economic inequality, to the environmental threats posed by the climate crisis, cities sit on the frontlines of a wide range of 21st century challenges. The Rockefeller Foundation created 100RC after observing the devastating consequences of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. But what started out as a environmental disaster and climate crisis inspired mission soon was amplified to include additional significant stressors on the urban environment like racial inequality, endemic violence, and inefficient public transportation.

Cities selected for the 100RC effort were given funding to hire Chief Resilience Officers, create resilience plans, and share and receive technical assistance from an international network of partner cities.

Local customization of resilience strategies became a cornerstone of 100RC’s work. Cities were encouraged to adopt programs and policies that addressed their own particular challenges. But while local customization became identified as a signature element of 100RC’s work, it faced scrutiny by the Rockefeller Foundation’s board who wanted to see funding delegated to programs that would achieve results that were easier to measure and would have more immediate impact on vulnerable people’s lives.

So in the spring of 2019, funding for 100RC ended, and the previous 30 to 40 million dollars that was spent annually on 100RC’s work was shifted by the Rockefeller Foundation to supporting maternal and children’s health and renewable energy solutions in the developing world.

All of this happened right when the City of Seattle was preparing its own Resilience Roadmap, and unfortunately the upheaval caused by the closure of 100RC left its mark on the publication Seattle produced. According to Smart Cities Dive, while Seattle participated in two years of research and planning through 100RC, the City only had about three months to finalize its report.

What We’re Reading: Scorching Divide, No Lights On, and A Rainbow of Service

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Fare-free KCMO: Kansas City is thinking about making transit fully fare-free.

Mark pedestrian crossings: Portland is adding “no crossing” signs at intersections targeted at pedestrians, but does that make them safer?

Shorter trips: While reports often claim people are stuck in more congestion and delay, people’s commute lengths timewise and distance may not actually be increasing.

Scorching divide: National Public Radio explains that as rising heat bakes American cities, the poorer classes are the ones feeling the brunt of it.

Transit policy lacking: So far, it appears that the Democrats running for president lack any vision for city transit according to Streetsblog.

Renaming University: There are rumblings that Sound Transit may rename the University Street light rail station avoid confusion with two other “university” stations.

Gentrification effects: CityLab looks into whether or not gentrification gives children anxiety.

Public bikeshare works: Citi Bike in New York City hit a new daily record of more than 90,000 bike rides.

Misguided LNG plans: A planned liquified natural gas plant in Tacoma would be bad for human health, experts explained last week in Crosscut.

No lights on: In another move to undermine climate, the occupant of the White House and his administration are rolling back rules on energy efficiency for lightbulbs ($).

Multimodal trip planning: A new feature in Google Maps provides transit options paired with biking and ridehailing.

Massive rejection: Phoenix voters in every city council district strongly rejected the proposition to ban light rail construction.

Megaregions: What exactly is a megaregion?

Groundbreaking: Local, state, and federal elected officials celebrated the ground breaking on the Sound Transit 2 light rail extension to Lynnwood last week ($).

A rainbow of service: Oran Viriyincy highlighted the colors that Sound Transit has quietly assigned to light rail lines and other transit services.

Banking on bikes: Jersey City is planning to roll out 20 miles of protected bike lanes by 2020, a huge move for such a small geographic city.

Street history: Rob Ketcherside gives a history on the renaming on several Wallingford and Green Lake streets.

PDX infill planning: Portland is trying to address concerns about displacement in urban infill regulatory changes.

Sunday Video: Why Your Public Transportation Sucks

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Hasan Minhaj explains why the state of American public transportation is threatened and leaves a lot to desire.

21st Century Man

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Something about the hard shadows gave the proceedings a quality of immediacy. You know, like the old westerns: standoffs beneath an unblinking desert sun.

I first knew him as a sullen teen sitting in the back of today’s largely empty 120. He pimp-rolled to the back lounge, a high-schooler swaggering to an audience of no one, preening like a sage grouse on an empty prairie. It takes a lot of effort to look like you’re putting in no effort, as many a teenage boy knows, but the few passengers I had—an East African grandmother here, a Latino mom and toddler there—couldn’t care less.

He sprawled out on the back bench and lifted up his shirt to expose his chest, revealing sculpted muscles and smooth, dark skin. Glancing in my rear-view mirror, I found the whole thing amusing; who exactly was he trying to impress? Was he aware how absurd it looked to ‘accidentally’ lift your shirt up to your neck and leave it there? No one does that. But hey, if it works for ya, you do you, my friend. It’s not like he was bothering anyone.

Anti-Transit Alex Pedersen’s Troubling Transportation Policies

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Alex Pedersen won 40% of the primary vote in Seattle’s Fourth Council District, but some of his views are very out of step with the electorate. He has taken steps to conceal some of those issues. For example, Pedersen opposed the Move Seattle transportation levy in 2015 and the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) ballot measure in 2016, which passed with more than 70% of the vote in Seattle. As he launched his city council campaign, Pedersen deleted his “4 to Explore” blog–as Erica C. Barnett reported–including his posts railing against transit measures and bike lanes. But the internet is forever.

Despite Pedersen’s plea against ST3, the fourth district backed ST3 overwhelmingly as you can see in the precinct results map below. It fell short of 50% in only three—albeit narrowly—of a hundred-plus precincts, some of the district’s wealthiest single-family areas: Windermere and View Ridge. The dark blue marks precincts where at least 70% of voters backed ST3. Some precincts were in the high 80s.

Out of step with his district

D4 is outlined in red. The dark blue areas mark precincts where ST3 passed by at least 70%–in other words most of the district. (Credit: Oran Viriyincy)

The argument that Pedersen used to justify his opposition to ST3 was that progressive taxation would be better than the financing package ST3 used. However, given Pedersen’s opposition to the Employee Hours Tax (a.k.a., head tax), which targets Seattle’s large employers, it’s hard to see that as a consistent principle of his. It also ignores that the Washington State Legislature provided Sound Transit with limited funding options and opted not to provide progressive forms of taxation. In fact, Olympia has refused to pass an income tax or a capital gains tax even when under full Democratic party control. Furthermore, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, which has made it its mission to block corporation taxation, endorsed Pedersen. So, they don’t seem to view him as a serious threat to their power, but rather a tool to further it. And even if Pedersen got his do-over, it would delay transit projects that voters want as soon as humanly possible.

Perhaps Pedersen could have cleared the air and fleshed out his platform, but he skipped the Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) transportation forum during the primary. Here’s what Pedersen said about ST3 back in his blogging days:

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