Last week Councilmember Mike O’Brien fell into the Sustainability Gap, that wide chasm between what politicians say and what they actually do. O’Brien voted against a carefully considered and vetted proposal (read more about it here), more than a year in the making, to allow some commercial uses in multifamily zones.
Here’s what O’Brien says about his vision for Seattle:
My vision of Seattle is one of made up of the incredible and growing diversity of our communities, where amid this diversity, all communities are safe, healthy and thriving. I see a Seattle that is a model of economic vitality, environmental sustainability, and political transparency.
But O’Brien, along with Sally Clark, Richard Conlin, and Jean Godden, opposed a proposal that would have helped move Seattle’s land use code toward a more innovative way of doing things, allowing diverse uses to be closer together in denser, more populated neighborhoods. The proposal that O’Brien helped to kill (which he earlier supported) was to allow, essentially, corner store like uses in neighborhoods that are already zoned multifamily. This is the kind of mix that makes transit, biking, and walking work because as uses are closer together the car becomes less necessary. It also promotes economic vitality by allowing new businesses to form.
Why did O’Brien do it?
People who live in vibrant, walkable urban centers like Capitol Hill are the people we need on board to guide the future development of the city. We clearly don’t have them on board today.
Based on the comments of a few dozen people in Capitol Hill who claim they have all the walkability they need, thank you very much, O’Brien chose to oppose the same thing for other neighborhoods.
The gap between what O’Brien says on his campaign website and how he votes is clear. Rather than support an expansion of the kind of diverse and thriving use of land on Capitol Hill, he chose to listen to a small group of neighbors getting help from insiders working for the City Council and live on Capitol Hill who opposed the idea (two members of City Council Central staff opposed the measure, and one, Rebecca Herzfeld helped opponents craft letters to Council).
That’s not sustainable, and it’s not transparent. It’s hard enough to convince Councilmembers to make a bold move on land use, but when one of the members of Council who is supposed to be a reliable ally can be persuaded to oppose something he once supported by a small group of neighbors, we’re in trouble.
Closing the Sustainability Gap means holding our elected friends accountable when they make bad decisions. It’s not a pleasant comfortable thing to do, but it’s necessary. If you think O’Brien made the wrong choice by changing his mind on the proposal call him or e-mail him. He needs to know you’re paying attention.
You can e-mail Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org
The author was a member of the panel, called the Regulatory Reform Roundtable, that recommended these changes to the code.