Monday, October 15, 2018

2018 Endorsement Questionnaire: Rebecca Saldaña

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Rebecca Saldaña

As part of our endorsement process at The Urbanist, we ask candidates to complete a standard questionnaire to better understand and evaluate their positions on housing, land use, transportation, and other important issues. We then share this information with our readers to help inform their own voting decisions.

This year we are considering selected candidates running for US Congress, Washington State Legislature, and King County Prosecuting Attorney. Starting this week, we are publishing the questionnaires in full, concluding with our official general election endorsements in mid-October.

The following questionnaire was submitted by State Senator Rebecca Saldaña running for Legislative District 37, which covers the Central District, Southeast Seattle, Skyway, and Renton. Saldaña’s opponent, Beth Broadway (R-Seattle), did not submit a questionnaire.

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Rapid Fire

Do you consider yourself an urbanist?

No.

Do you support an income tax?

Yes.

Short Answer

How do we keep Sound Transit 3 (ST3) timelines on track given that the Trump administration is slow-walking or eliminating grants for transit projects and construction costs are skyrocketing?

By protecting the ST3 funding package from the continued attacks at the state level; by working with Puget Sound Regional Council and local jurisdictions to align processes and permits to prevent delays; and by repealing I-200, so governments around the state can encourage competition of contractors by rebuilding a pipeline of diverse qualified contractors and construction workers.

What is your position on the Sound Transit car-tab tax? Would you support a plan that cuts Sound Transit’s budget?

No, I would not support a plan that cuts Sound Transit’s budget. While I am sympathetic to folks who experienced a spike in the car tab fee the difference between the two ways of valuation is a difference of $50-$70 for most individuals. The spike comes from the percentage of increase. Most folks in my district are most concerned with the property taxes not the car tabs; and given the uncertainty of our federal partner, we cannot afford to advance any plan that cuts ST.

Senator Warren Proposes Half-Trillion Dollar Housing Investment

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Remember how the federal government has a four trillion dollar annual budget, but somehow has only peanuts left over for low-income housing? The US government spends more subsidizing the mansions of the rich via the mortgage interest tax deduction than it spends on low-income housing.

That could all change if Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) got her way. Last month, Senator Warren introduced the the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act. Over the course of a decade, the bill would invest half a trillion dollars in affordable housing–building as many 3.2 million homes for low- and middle-income Americans.

Part of the novelty of Warren’s approach is that the conditions on its sizable grants would create an incentive to reform local zoning and land use regulations so that affordable apartments are easier to build under the law.

“An eligible entity desiring a grant under this section shall submit to the Secretary an application that demonstrates that the eligible entity has carried out, or is in the process of carrying out, initiatives that facilitate the expansion of the supply of well-located affordable housing,” the bill states. It goes on to state that favored urbanist policies like by-right development, reducing or eliminating parking requirements, instituting density bonuses, permitting accessory dwelling units, and introducing inclusionary zoning are ways to meet that condition.

The sad truth is apartments are simply illegal across much of the country, even in urbanized areas. Even with much greater resources, affordable housing providers are going to need suitable sites to build at a reasonable scale. That’s why it’s smart for a housing bill to tackle both problems.

With the housing affordability and homelessness crisis in full swing, lawmakers across the country are zeroing in on this issue, both at the federal and state level. Last week, I covered a minimum density bill by State Senator Guy Palumbo (D-Maltby) that would push local jurisdictions to zone for transit-oriented development.

Philip Tegeler, the executive director of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, had nothing but praise in an interview with Rachel M. Cohen of The Intercept.

“Much of the housing discussion has been about affordability, production, and tenant protections, which are all really important issues,” Tegeler said. “What’s so powerful about Warren’s bill is that it aims to tackle all those things, and it also looks at how are we going to structure our society going forward. Fair housing is really embedded in the legislation, and that’s why I find it so creative.”

Warren isn’t the only Democratic Senator with a major housing bill. Two other 2020 presidential hopefuls in Corey Booker (New Jersey) and Kamala Harris (California) introduced housing bills of their own. Next to Warren’s both seem modest, but they’d both be improvements in their own right.

Senator Harris was the first to bring forward a bill, the Rent Relief Act, which created a refundable tax credit for rent-burden renters. Senator Booker also centered his bill, the HOME (Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, and Equity) Act, on refundable tax credits, but–like Warren–he sought to create a linkage to ending exclusionary zoning to unlock the credits. 

Cohen quoted Portland housing activist Henry Kraemer who co-wrote a policy paper on ending the apartment ban with Seattle-based housing organizer Laura Loe Bernstein. Kraemer appreciated all three bills and what their being brought forward means for elevating the housing debate.

“Maybe more than any other politician, Elizabeth Warren helped set the tone and agenda for the party’s economic work around the country,” Kraemer said. “To see her saying now that these historic inequities in housing and soaring rents and mortgages are huge problems — well, that’s a big, big deal.”

And with Republican lawmakers all but admitting they don’t really care about the national debt with passage of massive deficit-expanding tax cuts for the wealthiest households and corporations, now is the time to make sound investments in what really matters to the future of this country. Getting housing right is one of those essential policies.

Contact your US Senators to urge them to take action on furthering housing justice, ending the apartment ban, and alleviating the affordability crisis. Tell them to back Senator Warren’s bill.

2018 Endorsement Questionnaire: Melanie Morgan

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Melanie Morgan. (Photo courtesy of Jin-Ah Kim)

As part of our endorsement process at The Urbanist, we ask candidates to complete a standard questionnaire to better understand and evaluate their positions on housing, land use, transportation, and other important issues. We then share this information with our readers to help inform their own voting decisions.

This year we are considering selected candidates running for US Congress, Washington State Legislature, and King County Prosecuting Attorney. Starting this week, we are publishing the questionnaires in full, concluding with our official general election endorsements in mid-October.

The following questionnaire was submitted by Melanie Morgan running for Legislative District 29A, which covers South Tacoma, Lakewood, Parkland, and Spanaway, as a Democrat. Morgan’s opponent, Terry Harder (Republican-Tacoma) did not submit a questionnaire.

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Rapid Fire

Do you consider yourself an urbanist?

Yes.

Do you support an income tax?

Yes.

Short Answer

How do we keep Sound Transit 3 (ST3) timelines on track given that the Trump administration is slow-walking or eliminating grants for transit projects and construction costs are skyrocketing?

I would side with Governor Inslee’s stance that Washington state should continue operating as independently of the Trump administration as possible. Sound Transit is a vital resource for so many of our citizens, especially those who commute long distances for work within the Sound, so I believe that it is imperative that we keep its development projects on track with current plans.

What is your position on the Sound Transit car-tab tax? Would you support a plan that cuts Sound Transit’s budget?

I understand the importance of funding public transportation; however, I would rather accomplish this through a method that does not disproportionately affect low-income community members who rely on their cars for transportation. Instead of the excise tax, I would like to see this transition into being supplemented with more progressive taxes. I would not support a plan that cuts Sound Transit’s budget, especially as a lack of transportation in my district is one of my platforms.

Seattle’s Backyard Cottage Plan Falls Short

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The City’s proposed changes for accessory dwelling units lacks Portland and Vancouver’s ambition.

On October 4th the City of Seattle released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for land use codes changes to remove barriers to the creation of accessory dwelling units (ADU) and detached dwelling units (DADU). The EIS also proposed size restrictions on construction of new single-family homes. Taken together, the two measures are intended to increase and preserve affordable housing stock throughout the city.

The measure is a step forward from Seattle’s current policies, but when compared to Portland’s Residential Infill Project, or the more liberal ADU policies of Vancouver, BC, it lacks ambition. 

It has also taken a long time for Seattle to get to this point. Since initial citywide legalization of ADUs in 2010, Seattle has been inching toward removing regulatory barriers to make it easier to allow for property owners to permit and build them.

Mayor Durkan spoke in favor of adding “gentle density” to single dwelling zoned neighborhoods during her campaign.  The publication of the Final EIS, which puts forth the City’s “Preferred Alternative” is the first proposal Seattleites have seen come forward under her and the current council’s leadership that addresses this issue.

Sunday Video: Do We Need Futuristic Tunnels?

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City Beautiful asks “do we need futuristic tunnels?”

What We’re Reading: Save the Coast, Universal Basic Mobility, and Free the Buses

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Battling new 5G rules: Seattle is fighting against new 5G federal wireless regulations ($) since it ties local jurisdictions hands too much.

Save the coast: The California Coastal Act will remain in place ($) thanks to the Supreme Court declining review.

Bike culture: How Bogotá’s cycling superhighways shaped a generation.

It’s about the opportunity: A higher minimum wage could reduce recidivism.

2017 nears records: 2017 was another deadly year on American roads for pedestrians.

Shelter the people: A city report calls for increasing shelter space ($) for people experiencing homelessness to persuade them off the street.

Universal Basic Mobility: Similar to Universal Basic Income, a Universal Basic Mobility could be coming.

Poor housing: Bedbugs are prevalent in some Everett Housing Authority units ($).

Street safety: Streetlights in Detroit has helped reduce pedestrian deaths on streets.

Diving prices: Housing prices in King County continue to plunge ($).

Free the buses: Seven locations where bus lanes would serve a serious good now.

Cities and the flu: There’s a correlation between longer flu seasons and the size of a city.

Stop scofflaws: Camera enforcement of bus lanes is effective, according to a study.

High-income riders: Seattle is one of few regions where high-income earners are more likely to take transit than low-income earners ($).

Book Launch at the Art Show: October 13

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Readers have been asking a book version of these bus stories of mine for some time now. You may remember that I’m represented by Eric Myers, of Myers Literary Management, in New York. Eric Myers is a mensch and a man ahead of the curve, because he believes, accurately, that what people want now are books that celebrate compassion, especially between those of diverse ethnic, economic and class backgrounds. There’s a trend in books that’s on the point of tipping into burgeoning being.

In these divisive times, snarky outrageousness has become ordinary. When snarky outrageousness is ordinary, the new radicality can only be nuance and kindness. Acceptance. I don’t know how we got to where these things have become refreshing and unusual, but that is where we are, and Mr. Myers, mensch that he is, has had to suffer what all forward-thinking trailblazers must endure: those who are afraid to deviate from the status quo. 

Realists are forever doomed to mediocrity, Lukas Richter once told me, because they lack the necessary naivete to believe in the possibility of great things happening. Trailblazers find this boring and tiresome, but we know it’s part of the game. We put up with doors closing in our faces for months or years on end, because we know. Eric and I are just waiting around for the publishing world to catch up. My stories and media platform indicate how well a national book would do– especially as all major cities in the US are currently experiencing the issues we discuss here. 

You won’t be surprised to hear the big houses are not the most adventurous of risk-takers. As ever though, Eric’s a man ahead of the curve, and I applaud him for taking a stand in that lonely place. It’s how things get done. Nobody, not one soul, was ever remembered for sticking with the status quo.

While he and I wait around for New York to figure out that people like reading about people being nice to each other, I have a surprise for you.

I’m releasing a limited-run book version of my bus stories that will, as of this writing, be available for one day only, and only in person. 

2018 Endorsement Questionnaire: Victoria Mena

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Victoria Mena

As part of our endorsement process at The Urbanist, we ask candidates to complete a standard questionnaire to better understand and evaluate their positions on housing, land use, transportation, and other important issues. We then share this information with our readers to help inform their own voting decisions.

This year we are considering selected candidates running for US Congress, Washington State Legislature, and King County Prosecuting Attorney. Starting this week, we are publishing the questionnaires in full, concluding with our official general election endorsements in mid-October.

The following questionnaire was submitted by Victoria Mena, running for Legislative District 31A. Mena’s opponent, incumbent Drew Stokesbary (Republican-Auburn) did not submit a questionnaire.

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Rapid Fire

Do you consider yourself an urbanist?

Yes.

Do you support an income tax?

Yes.

Short Answer

How do we keep Sound Transit 3 (ST3) timelines on track given that the Trump administration is slow-walking or eliminating grants for transit projects and construction costs are skyrocketing?

We cannot be afraid to raise the revenue ourselves. Washington is a wealthy state with a clear, demonstrated desire for ST3 light rail in the Puget Sound Region. Additional revenue for ST3 could be raised through carbon pricing, capital gains taxes, or a progressive income tax. It’s important we keep these critical projects on schedule.