Here are Seattle Transit Blog’s endorsements for Seattle City Council in the August primary. As always, our endorsements solely reflect the candidate’s positions and record on transit and land use.
Longtime readers know our core positions well: in favor of transit investment, concentration of resources into high-quality corridors, upzones, and pedestrian and bicycle access improvements. We are also skeptical of taxes on development, parking minimums, and the assumption that all parts of the region must be cheap and easy to access with a car.
District 1 No endorsement. None of the candidates we interviewed particularly stood out. Brianna Thomas had some good values but doesn’t seem to have a good concept for how to manage the bus network. Shannon Braddock has thought through the set of policy proposals currently before the City, but doesn’t seem to have made up her mind about what other policies Seattle needs. Lisa Herbold has neither problem, but we’re concerned that her concerns about displacement will do too much to discourage development. We’re hopeful that at least one of these candidates will make it to the general election and refine their positions.
District 2 Bruce Harrell has a difficult record on urbanist issues. His past has “people are going to drive” dog-whistle quotes, and in his current term he was the only vote against the desperately needed North Rainier Rezone. But recently he’s been in front of the push to rechannelize Rainier even if it slows people’s drives. He’s fallen in with the Mayor’s consensus on transit and land use, and defers to SDOT on service allocation policy (a good thing).
We’re concerned, based on past form, that Harrell may be telling us what we want to hear, so it’s a shame his main opponent, Tammy Morales, has some unsound transit ideas. Her answer to the station access problem is public park & rides and circulator routes — an expensive waste of land and a discredited planning idea, respectively.
District 3 Pamela Banks is the best of a weak field in District 3. She seems the most welcoming of density’s benefits and supports focusing resources in certain bus corridors. On the subject of parking, she had the interesting idea of a city inventory of loading zones and looked favorably upon Portland’s approach to expanding paid parking hours in entertainment districts, while at the same time expressing unfortunate skepticism about the merits of lowering parking minimums. Finally, her experience as a liaison to the Mayor’s office during Central Link construction gave her a unique insight into how to make capital investments that are sensitive to surrounding communities, a skill that will be in demand if ST3 passes next fall.
District 4: Rob Johnson, longtime friend of the blog, is absolutely committed to transportation projects that provide alternatives to driving alone and has earned our endorsement. He understands the macro-implications of micro-decisions about pedestrian access and parking concessions. He understands that a denser city is both necessary and desirable, and is willing to subordinate other goals to that imperative. He understands the details and can therefore check on implementation. Importantly, we are confident he can turn principles into policy given his excellent working relationships with most regional transportation leaders.
Among his opponents, Michael Maddux is a great candidate who is unfortunately running against the very best. We’re skeptical of his call for agency consolidation, and he doesn’t quite have Johnson’s command of transportation detail, but these are nitpicks. We wish he were running in a different race. Jean Godden has a poor record on the council and is out of touch with the dense-living, transit-riding generation.
District 5: Mercedes Elizalde was the best of a surprisingly strong District 5 field. She embraces density, including market-rate, and understands that commercial activity makes places vibrant. Her position as a nonprofit developer helps her understand its implementation details, crucial for a regulator. We asked almost every candidate about their bus service allocation principles, and Elizalde was the only one who emphasized transit should serve density, existing and planned. It was the best answer in any race.
District 6: Mike O’Brien has been an urbanist favorite on transportation and land use for his entire political career. He is a deep thinker on transit issues, a good presence on the Sound Transit board, and willing to stand up to the SOV lobby to allow others to safely share the road. On land use, we are increasingly concerned about his statements about preserving the ‘character’ of single-family neighborhoods and opposing additional density there. Also troublesome are recent gestures toward needlessly restricting the number of units, or paying for affordable housing by adding costs to new housing supply.
District 7: Sally Bagshaw has been a reliable vote for transit projects and has a welcoming attitude to growth.
“District” 8 (at-large) Tim Burgess may be the purest urbanist of the 47 candidates this cycle: he seems to take it personally when Seattle misses an opportunity for more dense housing and workplaces. He unequivocally supports the great transportation and housing initiatives moving forward today. He even talked in depth about Donald Shoup in our endorsement interview, a detail that set our hearts aflutter.
Among his opponents, John Roderick, a very promising newcomer, has the right values for the city council. He would be an easy pick if he’d been in a number of other races. We’d like to see him further develop his policy preferences in the space between measures currently close to the ballot and aggressive rail plans that are unworkable in the near to medium term. Jon Grant is deeply skeptical of the market-rate development that is the broadest component of any plausible solution to the housing shortage.
“District” 9 (at-large) Lorena Gonzalez is a middle-of-the-pack candidate on our issues. She supports the excellent Move Seattle and HALA proposals. She also happens to be running against the worst of the serious council contenders. Bill Bradburd is a leader of the reactionary anti-development activists, eager to pull up the drawbridge to newcomers, and opposed to Mayor Murray’s sensible proposals on both transportation and housing.
The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Frank Chiachiere, and Brent White, with valued input from the rest of the staff. Special thanks to Zach Shaner and Erica C. Barnett, especially, for their help with this process.
94 Replies to “2015 Seattle City Council Primary Endorsements”
An interesting mix of candidate choices to be sure. But the endorsement of Pamela Banks is deeply questionable. The Urbanist wrote that “Banks argued that light rail isn’t serving the Rainier Valley well. She said that people live too far away from the stations and need better access. Banks praised light rail stations like Tukwila International Boulevard as examples for how station access should be provided. Specifically, Banks wants more park-and-ride structures to ensure that people can use light rail.” How is that transit friendly? http://www.theurbanist.org/2015/05/27/2015-seattle-city-council-election-district-3-pamela-banks-interview/
Also, to their credit, they did an awesome job writing interviews with candidates, too. http://www.theurbanist.org/2015/06/26/icymi-we-profiled-26-candidates-for-seattle-city-council/
Well, they did say best of a weak field. Seems like there was much to dislike about all the D3 candidates.
Sure, but they also threw their hands up and endorsed no one in D1. If D3 is so weak, why pick anyone? But more importantly, it doesn’t appear that they really love any of the candidates, except maybe O’Brien who gets a brief mention and the lamest endorsement of Bagshaw. Given that we have no idea what the candidates shared or what metrics the STB staff were really ranking them by, it just seems all so…haphazard.
We thought Banks, while not great, was measurably better than the alternatives. There was no such distinction in D1.
I have no idea why you think we didn’t love any candidates. Johnson, Elizalde, and Burgess literally could not have done any better in their interviews, and we have nothing bad to say about any of them. As for Bagshaw, we honestly didn’t invest much time in that race given her strong record and lack of interesting, viable alternatives.
I’m not sure what “metrics” you’re looking for, beyond the clear statement of principles at the beginning of the post.
I remember reading some comments by her earlier while looking into candidates that raised eyebrows including these. I’m leaning towards Rod Hearne. Agreed that District 3 is a weak field, that is an understatement.
Of note, they skipped over inviting Mercedes Elizalde, who gave what was perhaps the best interview of all the candidates. Nobody’s perfect, and we’re always looking for more volunteers (Did I mention we are all volunteers?) to do the things people try to volunteer us to do.
Obviously, we have disagreements with the parking policy ideas of every candidate in the District 3 race (and their policy ideas are evolving as they learn more), and looked at other issues. Banks is clearly much less antagonistic toward developers than the incumbent, which makes a huge difference in allowing housing, including affordable housing, to get built.
To be clear, I am only speaking for myself in the comments. Being a volunteer has its benefits.
No mention of Alon Bassok for position 9?
Given the number of candidates, we tried to screen for viability. This is where Erica, who’s been following it intensely, was incredibly helpful.
… among many ways in which she was incredibly helpful.
Viable by what metric? Having the best command of the subject matter of any candidate in this race? Check. Having taught many of the people currently working in transit-related jobs? Check. Having a network of former colleagues that covers a large swath of public, academic, and private sector? Check.
I respect that Bassok hasn’t raised as much money as Gonzales, or (*shudder*) Bradburd. But are we really that cynical that when one of our frickin’ own steps up, we can’t support him? He really is the best candidate for this job. I honestly have no idea what Erica is on about–she decided on her winners and losers early on, and by apparently arbitrary means. Erica was definitely NOT helpful here, unless the goal is to try and bury actual good ideas and thoughtful candidates.
Regarding Banks, she also said during the Madison forum that traffic was caused by trying to accommodate multiple forms of transportation and used the 23rd Ave corridor improvement project, which had just begun construction at the time, as an example of something she’d oppose. Then used an anecdote that because some traffic was rerouted during construction (yes, true) that it was a disaster, or mess, I forget the exact word used.
Morgan Beach kept hitting talking points about density, transit oriented development and made an impassioned case that Seattle should be welcoming of newcomers and renters, but then said she opposed BRT on Madison, perhaps because it was a quick lightning question and nobody explained what the acronym BRT meant?. There seemed to be a lot of inconsistencies and contradictions that night for lots of people.
As a D3 resident, inconsistencies and contradictions are my impression of the entire race. There are no good choices, IMO.
Great post. This was really well written. I am still trying to decide between Juarez and Watkins (in my district — the fighting fifth). Now you’ve made my choice even harder :)
You really can’t go wrong in D5, at least with the candidates we interviewed. Others might disagree, but my order was Elizalde/Brown/Watkins/Juarez. Even Juarez would be a strong contender in D1, D3, or D9. But Elizalde was definitely the most impressive.
This is very encouraging news. I didn’t really know much about any of them, but the news gives me hope that an urbanist-ish majority is actually possible. I’d be tempted to strategically vote for Roderick in the primary, in an effort to keep Grant’s anti-housing agenda out of the general.
I agree with Martin’s order, although for me, Juarez and Watkins are a tossup. Juarez talked a lot about the need for parking in the North End, and Watkins didn’t seem especially familiar with STB’s issues and has been a huge supporter of linkage fees, a tax on all development to pay for affordable housing.
Odd that Jaurez pushed for parking; she was one of two (Elizalde being the other) that said that new development should not require parking (http://thecisforcrank.com/2015/05/21/five-things-i-learned-in-the-fifth/). That is what attracted me to her — then her issues page emphasized ADUs, and I was impressed. She also picked up endorsements from The Stranger and The Seattle Times. Then Watkins got the Urbanist endorsement (and the Cascade Bicycle Club endorsement). Now this (further complicating things).
So, has anyone in the area said anything about HALA? That to me is the most important thing in the city. Folks will push for good transportation choices in general (just look at what the mayor has proposed) and will push for good projects in their area (in this case a station at NE 130th and the bridge over I-5 at Northgate) but housing is by far the most controversial and the most complicated. I’m pretty happy with HALA, so if someone said she was on board, that would probably tip the scales for me
Interestingly, everyone says good things about HALA.
HALA is certainly the most transformative in the long term. I wish we could get an ST+Metro+city transit network as comprehensive as that. Then we’d have a transit network more like Chicago’s or DC’s  or San Francisco’s (although still not as comprehensive).
 Referring to the DC Metro. I know nothing about DC’s bus network, since the Metro goes to enough places that I’ve never had to use the buses.
However, even though HALA is so powerful, I’d hesitate to say it’s the single most important issue in the city and all others are far behind.
“Tax on development” is another way of saying we’re going to bilk the newcomers but allow the longtimers to benefit from development without adjusting their property taxes.
In other words the same unfair policy that Sven Seattle and Wally Washington already have.
The newcomers (anyone who moved here since 1990, or who doesn’t own property) have to wake up to tremendous silent ripoff of being charged more for things than their “native” precursors.
The only solution is to lift the cap on property taxes, so that people pay fair and equitable taxes based on the current valuations. No more grandfathering.
This presupposes that developers aren’t already charging as much as they can for newly developed housing. If they are already charging what the market will bear, I think it’s more reasonable to view a tax on development as directing some of the profits from new development towards the social good of affordable housing.
We’ll shift the burden to property taxes as soon as the Legislature allows it. But we can’t just rail about property taxes and do nothing else in the meantime, because it might take twenty, thirty, or a hundred years before we can have a less regressive tax system. At least we don’t have California’s Prop 13 that freezes 1970s tax rates for the lucky few who bought their house before then. (I was nine years old, so I didn’t buy a house with my school-lunch money.)
The developers  and landlords were making a profit in 2000, when a 1 BR apartment was around $650. Inflation has been around 2% since then, so it would be $900 now (bls.gov). Instead it’s $1600, which is a massive, massive windfall. Not just for new buildings, but all buildings. We could tax 40% of it and they’d still be making more profit than they did in 2000.
 Remembering that “developer” really means owner, because the planner and builder don’t share in the windfall; the value is in the land.
Let me first say a word of congratulations for the first logical set of endorsements, even if I disagree with some of them.
I would encourage all readers here to vote for Roderick instead of Burgess in position 8 for the primary. Burgess will definitely, for sure, get through and you do not want Grant anywhere near city hall. The same with Bassok in 9.
Getting all urbanists on the general election for all city wide races will be a coup for our values.
Don’t throw your vote away; vote Roderick.
Are you saying keep Bassok away from the council, or vote for him?
Vote for him. Don’t allow Bradburd, as well as Grant, to get past this primary. Vote Roderick.
I’d love to see that happen, but is there any reason to think Bassok has much of a chance?
Prob not, but better to vote for him than allow Bradburd close to city hall. Same with Roderick! Vote for that guy!
Very few politicians (especially qualified, earnest first time politicians) have a chance unless people vote for them. Gonzales is a shoe-in for making it through the primary. Voting for Bassok keeps Bradburd McCrazypants away from the ballot, and more importantly, **keeps an injection of good ideas coming in this race**!
Lots of folks forget that Alon was the first in this race to identify manditory inclusionary zoning–which is the strongest, most transit-complementary housing policy I’ve seen floated.
As someone who has been graciously allowed to guest instruct for Alon’s masters-level courses in sustainable transportation, seriously, you cannot find a better qualified candidate or one who is as committed to transit.
Also, he’s not *just* an egghead. Ask him about tending bar, jazz bass, or show up to tonight’s event with him and get schooled in Cards Against Humanity by him.
+1. Unfortunately my feeling is Grant has more traction since he’s been more involved and prominent in recent housing debates and press conferences by hitching his wagon to Sawant.
Well, he certainly doesn’t have the donor base of Sawant, and his two opponents have many more monies than him.
But I’m working hard to make sure Roderick goes through! =D
100 million miles of rail, for few monies!
We toyed with the idea of dual to try to game the primary system, but I think some pro-transit voters got too cute in the Nickels/McGinn/Mallahan primary, and we don’t really encourage that kind of behavior.
Yeah, primaries (given our system) are really hard. I noticed that every organization endorsed one candidate. I find this a little bit odd (especially out of the Seattle Times). They used to endorse two candidates, one from each party, even back when we had an open primary (meaning you could vote for a Democrat and a Republican in the primary). It was a little different then (you might be a hard core Republican and want to know which one the paper thinks is best) but not that different.
Of course the other thing you could do is simply rate candidates (like the Municipal League does). If you read the text, you can get the same information, though. So if your neighbor is, say, Michael Maddux, you don’t have to feel like this blog thinks he is terrible (simply not the best in that district).
Speaking of the Muni league, your endorsements match them almost exactly. Except for the first district, if you simply picked the candidate ranked the highest, it would match your endorsements. Interesting. http://www.munileagueratings.org/2015-candidate-ratings/
Interesting! I paid no attention to the Muni League.
Are these primaries like the ones for state elections, where if a single candidate wins 50% in the primary they win the whole thing (essentially a stunted runoff system)? If so, you should generally vote your conscience, unless you think people will vote much differently between the “primary” and the “general”.
A full IRV system with preference lists would eliminate essentially all incentives for strategic voting; our system only removes them in most practical situations.
My understanding is that there is a general election regardless.
I never heard that and would be surprised if that’s true.
Yes, there is a general with two candidates (if at least two candidates were on the primary ballot), even if the top candidate got 99% of the vote.
Sadly, even if the top two candidates get collectively only 25% of the vote, we still only get two candidates on the general ballot. Instant runoff voting would solve that problem, by allowing each voter to rank all the candidates, as many as she/he cares to, in each race, and save the expense of holding the primary election.
IRV might also do something districting has miserably failed to do: cut the cost of campaigning for office. I use the word “might” tepidly here, since nobody predicted the arms race we’re seeing in D3.
And, oh, how IRV could reduce the annoying mudslinging. If you think the D3 race is getting nasty, just wait until it is mano y mano. You ain’t see nothin’ yet.
IRV would also discourage (not eliminate) strategic voting, but that’s a treatise that is outside the realm of this blog, and I’ve digressed long enough.
The 50% thing applies only in judicial primaries. It’s still a stupid rule.
Personally, I voted for Roderick for many reasons, one of which is his urbanist politics. I like Tim too. But I definitely want John to make it through the primary.
I feel the same way.
I’m glad to hear (read) that, fellow Zach and Erica!!
“I would encourage all readers here to vote for Roderick instead of Burgess in position 8 for the primary. Burgess will definitely, for sure, get through”
That’s what we thought about Nickels. Many people voted for McGinn thinking Nickels was sure to get the other slot and they’d decide between them in the final, but too many people did and Nickels was out in the primary. (That was when I followed a Stranger endorsement that turned out to be quite wrong.) McGinn turned out to be as good as Nickels and Schell, but I think that we dismissed Nickels and Schell unfairly compared to their quality.
IDK about that case, but this case is surely different. Don’t throw away a vote for Burgess and let Grant get closer to a position of power to enact damaging rent control.
Were you able to speak with Alon Bassok? He has made transportation and housing central to his campaign, so I think he deserves a mention if not an endorsement.
Thank you for NOT endorsing “The Socialist” as many commentators here would want.
I second this statement. It’s even more important when “The Socialist” advocates bad, and even anti-proletarian, policies on land use.
Rly? I’ve seen no positive words said about Kshama or her policies on this blog anywhere. She doesn’t stand for what any of us stand for, mostly.
I think Joe meant to say the commentariat pretty much unanimously wanted us to not endorse Sawant. We obliged.
I think it’s fair to say that D3 was the least enthusiastic endorsement. In D3 it was more about a surplus of negatives with other candidates, which is why they pulled the trigger for Banks, while in D1 it was more an absence of positives, hence the No Endorsement.
Well in any event, I am happy the Seattle Transit Blog is NOT the Socialist Transit Blog.
You guys really should have endorsed Braddock in D1. She’s really solid on transit and has laid out specific ideas during community forums. In the short term, she wants to get more dedicated ROW for buses, especially on the high bridge, and in the long term she is a strong ST supporter. She supports safe and complete streets and expansion of Pronto. But perhaps more importantly, she’s not anti-development like Herbold. By failing to endorse her, or at least Brianna Thomas, you’re increasing the likelihood that we end up with Herbold, and that would be disastrous.
Yep. Shannon Braddock or Brianna Thomas would have been better than no endorsement, and both way better than Lisa Herbold on transportation and density issues. Both are strong ST3 supporters, both want to expand Metro Transit service throughout West Seattle and South Park. Thomas has made an issue of inadequate service to Delridge and the need for improvements on the 120. Yes, Thomas is young and needs to learn more about transit, but she’s the only one in this race that has come out strongly in favor of increasing density. That’s part of the reason she got the sole endorsement of the Sierra Club and the Urbanist. McGinn supports her, and the Seattle Bike Blog has come out for her. The more I think about this the weirder it is you didn’t endorse her.
We talked a lot about this race, interviewed Braddock, Thomas, and Herbold, and just couldn’t come together on it. There was a point where we almost endorsed Thomas, and one where we almost endorsed Braddock. I don’t think we would have endorsed Herbold in any case, but her interview was strong enough to not make defeating her an emergency. Thomas said a few things that gave us pause and it was hard to pin Braddock down on much of anything beyond the immediate Move Seattle/HALA consensus. I hope to revisit this race in the General.
I love Brianna… but she has not done much work at ALL on service to Delridge and the need for improvements to the 120. That’s my wheelhouse and has been for years…
It’s unfortunate that folks looked to Erica for advice, since she generally just cares about money raised.
In D1, the only candidates with any real experience are Shannon Braddock and Chas Redmond, who have both been involved with transit and transportation to the District for YEARS. Braddock as an aide to King Co. Councilmember Joe McDermott is quite familiar with the South Park Bridge fiasco and the ups and downs of Metro and ST planning and funding. Redmond has been on a number of volunteer committees on the issues — including serving on the advisory group for RapidRide.
I also agree that you should have endorsed Braddock. She has by far the most experience on transportation issues involving West Seattle. I am not sure what you wanted to hear, but endorsing her or at least Brianna would have been a better vote for transit.
As a D1 resident, its a tossup between Braddock and Herbold. While I like Braddock sharpness on the Transit issue, I like Herbold’s work for renters—rental housing inspections, linkage fees to make developers pay for affordable housing.in new buildings. I lean Herbold, but would be very comfortable w/ Braddock.
I agree with you about Herbold, but those things you like are apparently what disqualifies one from getting an STB endorsement.
Herbold is a bad candidate because she’s rabidly anti-development. I’ve seen her talk about this numerous times. I’ve seen her tell voters she is in favor of parking minimums for all projects, against eliminating parking spots basically anywhere for any reason, and she also seems to buy into the whole idea that parking very close to business districts is good for business, as opposed to restricting parking for other uses that accommodate actual people, as opposed to just their vehicles. She’s gone full NIMBY during the primary and she suffers from a case of severe affordability/displacement myopia.
Her affordability focus would be admirable if she actually understood what she’s talking about. Her ideas would result in sharp restrictions on the creation of new housing in the city, and many of us believe that we need more housing, not less, if we’re ever going to see greater affordability. I’m no free market evangelist who thinks that supply and demand are the only factors at play, but we do absolutely need to dramatically increase our housing supply. Increased supply needs to be coupled with smart affordability initiatives and renter protections, but with Herbold we’d be guaranteed to fail because she only sees half of the equation.
those things you like are apparently what disqualifies one from getting an STB endorsement.
No, obviously not. This blog has been skeptical but equivocal about linkage fees. Her anti-development (really, anti-housing) priorities that make her clearer unendorsable.
“he also seems to buy into the whole idea that parking very close to business districts is good for business, as opposed to restricting parking for other uses that accommodate actual people, as opposed to just their vehicles”
That sounds like the movie “Cars”, where cars are the people.
As one who is simultaneously pro-transit AND concerned about housing affordability, it is very sad to see STB pit them against each other. Having “concerns about displacement” is enough to lose your endorsement? As is skepticism about market rate development? Good grief.
It’s hard to tell whether you actually believe the free market will produce just outcomes and prevent displacement, or if you just don’t care about those issues at all. As long as your bus shows up every 10 minutes or less, who cares who’s riding it or why?
Housing affordability doesn’t exist if there’s no vacancies. The people who already have apartments are protected, but if they’re filling all the lower-cost units, then people looking for a place have to go outside the city. That includes both newcomers, young adults moving out of their parent’s house, people moving to a different neighborhood or street, people starting relationships or having kids, etc. The squeeze started in 2010 when middle-income people couldn’t afford condos and didn’t want to pay for luxury units so they filled up the older no-frills units. That was displacement, because those who could only afford the $600 or $800 units were shut out. We have to have enough housing to match the rising population and jobs, or the vacancy rate will go down, and that’s what causes rent increases. You need a vacancy rate of 5-10% for rents to remain stable, and we’re down around 2-3%, or maybe even 1-2% now. 1-2% is where San Francisco has been for the past three decades, so that’s why their rents have been rising like a rocket into the $3000’s. We mustn’t let that happen here.
Developers have been building annual waves of new buildings since 2011, and every year the experts predict that next year will be enough to stabilize and slacken demand, but it still hasn’t happened. The problem is not that we’re building too much, but that we’re not building enough.
Almost every new building has added two, three, or five times as many units as it subtracted. If they were replacing inexpensive units 1:1 with expensive units, then you’d have more of a case to limit development. But they’re adding a lot of housing capacity for those subtracted units, and where would those people live if the new buildings weren’t built? They’d increase competition on the existing units, thus bidding up rents and being more desirable to landlords. That would not preserve lower-income housing either. The only units that being replaced 1:1 are building renovations, but that would not be blocked by a ban on development.
I don’t think anyone is arguing that we don’t need more housing. But the market, left to its own devices, is not creating affordable housing. We are supposed to believe that at some point in the future supply will exceed demand, prices will fall and finally affordability benefits will trickle down to the masses. In the meantime we can all get displaced somewhere else.
Another way to approach this is to more straightforwardly require that some of the new private development be priced affordably. This is what linkage fees and affordable housing mandates are driving towards. I know you free marketeers will instantly say that no new housing will ever get built if we burden it with costs, but try to keep your reality hat on. I think it’s self-evident that the amount matters. If you imposed a penny-per-unit fee, you would hopefully agree it would not deter development. If you imposed a $5 million-per-unit fee, I will concede that new construction would come to a grinding halt. So the amount matters. And at least for linkage fees, the City’s consultants came to the conclusion that this can be done. To quote from Mike O’Brien’s page, “the economic analysis conducted by DRA shows that Seattle’s jobs, real estate and development markets are so strong that we could raise our fees significantly without halting the growth we are experiencing. The more modest fees that Council are considering are below the level that the analysis suggests would slow development.”
So let’s not just quote abstract supply and demand, and trust the magic of the market to fix everything.
“I don’t think anyone is arguing that we don’t need more housing. But the market, left to its own devices, is not creating affordable housing.”
I assumed your “displacement” meant, “Do not tear down any older less-expensive buildings, not one.” That’s what John Fox’s Displacement Coalition seems to believe. If your position is more moderate than that, then we may be closer.
“We are supposed to believe that at some point in the future supply will exceed demand, prices will fall and finally affordability benefits will trickle down to the masses.”
That’s an oversimplification, and bringing rents down is difficult. The best we can hope for is to moderate the increases until inflation catches up to them (bringing the rent-to-income ratio back to 30%), which would take twenty or thirty years. The only way to bring rents down is to cause a recession and job loss, which would make people move away (either back home or to a job). The 2008 crash caused half the buildings in the Summit area to have “Vacancy” signs, and many landlords offered sales (“First month free”, “Free microwave”, “$100 off our regular rent”), but it didn’t last long enough for a sustained reversal of the 3-5% increases in the early 2000s. (While inflation was/is running at 2% or less.)
The immediate effect of more housing is a larger selection for renters, and less competition. That would prevent the run-ups where five or thirty people are competing for a unit. (In the 80s, 90s, and early 00s you could view a typical unit, take a week to decide, and likely the unit was still available.) It would make rents stabilize and increase sales. There would still be the problem of a shrinking number of older less-expensive units, and no new units at that price, but at least the competition for those older units would be less. People would still be pushed out of the city, but at a lesser rate, and that’s better than nothing.
To solve the affordability problem we have to create more studios at $600-800, and 1- and 2-bedrooms at $1000. That would address people who don’t qualify for low-income housing but have trouble with $1300+ rents. If the market can’t provide this even with upzoning, then we have to do it some other way. There are several potential ways to do it, and I’m not categorically against any of them, not even linkage fees. The main issue is that we have to build a lot of them, tens of thousands, and the people who should subsidize them are the entire population, not just developers or new-unit dwellers. The entire city/region caused the problem with anti-density regulations and not building enough housing for the population, so the entire city/region should participate in the solution. However, linkage fees can be part of solution as an easy-to-pass expedient, and I don’t believe they’re directly related to rent. Rent is based on the vacancy rate, the average quality of the units available, proximity to good transit (even people who drive act choose units close to it, whether consciously or not), etc. A linkage fee is a drop in the bucket compared to the total building cost; it’s not something that would sway a company’s decision whether to build.
Also remember that the pool of people for these $800-1000 units is not just those who are currently looking for apartments in Seattle, but those who were displaced to the suburbs earlier.
I don’t think anyone is arguing that we don’t need more housing.
They don’t say it out loud, but they promote and pursue policies that frustrate more housing. Density opponents almost never say “density never”. They somehow almost always say “not this density.”
Now if you talk to the NIMBY activists, rather than the politicians they support, they’ll often be more honest. They’re often pretty straightforward–the city’s getting too crowded, we need to stop adding more people. Some of them do the same dishonest “not this density” move, but at least some of them are straightforward about the agenda.
As to your larger point, of course you are entirely correct that setting fees on developers will only inhibit the construction of new units if it’s above a certain (unknown) level. The danger in relying on this tool as a major piece of the affordable housing puzzle (rather than a minor one) is that we’ll be tempted to set the fees at a high enough rate to build the amount of affordable housing we need, which may be high enough to suppress market rate housing. It may also increase the cost of market rate housing, which creates another affordability problem at a different point on the income scale. (I assume by “affordability” we mean a mix of housing options that roughly match the mix of capacity to pay for it.)
“we’ll be tempted to set the fees at a high enough rate to build the amount of affordable housing we need, which may be high enough to suppress market rate housing”
That rate would be much higher than any of the heretofore-contemplated rates, and the developers will tell us they’re backing away. We could even ask developers at what point they’d slow down development, if we need the earliest possible warning.
Having “concerns about displacement” is enough to lose your endorsement?
“Concerns about displacement” is generally code for trying to restrict housing supply, which in the long run is bad for affordability. Density’s foes use a variety of tools to try and prevent new projects. (The same people who say they’re worried about displacement also usually don’t support increasing height limits, which is a huge tell. The higher new construction goes, the fewer people will be displaced per new unit constructed.
Seems like a pretty loose and sloppy connection to equate “concerns about displacement” with wanting to restrict housing supply. Do you have anything specific to point to about these candidates wanting to restrict housing supply? Most of the folks I know want more housing too, but they are additionally concerned with who has access to that housing, and whether people who have been here for a long time will be forced out by the rising costs.
Seems like a pretty loose and sloppy connection to equate “concerns about displacement” with wanting to restrict housing supply.
I don’t see what’s sloppy about it. It’s a straightforward description of what people who oppose development do. In my neighborhood, three lots with fairly run-down (and for that reason probably fairly affordable) rental houses were purchased in order to build an apartment building with something like 35-40 units. It was opposed by many of my neighbors for a variety of reasons, but concern about the displacement of the families currently living in those houses was one of the most common ones.
OK, so in your scenario we are creating 35-40 units of new housing, which is good. What will be even better is when there is a requirement that some of them will be affordable. Better still when the 3 current tenants have some options, some notice and some rights. Given some notice before they have to move? Provided with some relocation money? Maybe they are first in line to live in the new building where they used to live? Or the landlord must help them find another suitable living situation?
There are a variety of ways to address displacement concerns without being anti-development. And I’m hard-pressed to think of any affordable housing development that doesn’t include an increase in density. To suggest that affordable housing advocates are anti-development, anti-density or NIMBYists just seems way off base to me.
“As long as your bus shows up every 10 minutes or less, who cares who’s riding it or why?”
That’s the flip side of a density strategy. We can either fill in more units (and more affordable units) in areas where the buses are full-time frequent, and/or we can expand the frequent bus network into more ares. I’ve been a strong proponent of the latter: we need to get full-time frequent transit into lower-cost areas like Lake City, Broadview, and Delridge so they can be more viable places to live without a car. (And maybe Skyway, outer MLK, Burien, Tukwila, Renton, and Kent.) We should expand the network’s reach, but that alone is not enough for the rising population and jobs. We still need infill development in the urban villages. We still need to expand the urban villages to a full 20-minute walkshed around transit stations. We still need ADUs and row houses allowed in single-family zones.
“As long as your bus shows up every 10 minutes or less”
By the way, the only thing that’s 10 minutes or less full time is Link. (“Full time” meaning 6am-10pm every day.) RapidRide is second with 10 minutes peak, 15 off-peak. (The E drops to 20 minutes Sunday evenings.) Metro’s “frequent routes” are 15 minutes weekdays and Saturday until 6pm, 30 minutes otherwise. A few routes and combined corridors (71/72/73, 26/28) have at least 15 minutes full time, but only a few. In September several more will, although that’s only until Prop 1 expires in 2020.
I’m glad the NIMBY coup isn’t happening so far. There are enough good candidates that I hope some of them get elected.
I’m looking for reasons to vote against Sawant. She’s been OK, and I’ve been unexpectedly impressed hearing her talk directly in radio interviews, compared to secondhand reports or campaign sound bites. But I think there’s room for someone better, and I don’t want to see her get a quasi-permanent position for decades because it’s an ultra-liberal district. Her positions on transit and housing have been mediocre: she has some good points but doesn’t stress them enough, and other points you don’t know which way she’d go. We can hope she’d support frequent corridors and HCT and density when a specific proposal comes up, but you can’t tell whether she would or not.
She has always struck me as a demagogue. I was afraid this was the case initially, and it sure seems like it now. She doesn’t seem to get along very well with other council members, despite the fact that she agrees with 90% of them on just about any issue. Not every one, certainly, but tax and spend? Of course. She continues to run on raising the minimum wage, as if she was the only one pushing for it and the folks in SeaTac didn’t get the ball rolling around here. She pushes for things that are simply unattainable (like rent control) or ineffective (like rent control). Meanwhile, she opposes market solutions (or even market improvements) to housing, because it goes against her core belief — or maybe her political message — that the state should control everything. Fair enough, but what about the home owner? She manages to ignore private ownership when she knows it is a political loser, and simply blames wealthy people for all our problems. If she wants to rail against something, rail against parking minimums. But doing that goes against her mantra — big business is the source of all problems — so she pushes for things that are unattainable or will have a very minor effect (like a few more Section 8 vouchers).
“She continues to run on raising the minimum wage”
I don’t count that against her. She’s lucky to have such a persuasive accomplishment, and I’m not surprised she’s marketing it. None of the other candidates either now or anything I can remember have had such a vote-turning accomplishment to put on their poster.
“as if she was the only one pushing for it and the folks in SeaTac didn’t get the ball rolling around here.”
Wasn’t she involved in the SeaTac campaign too?
Well, Goldy doesn’t like your endorsements, so I think you’re on the right track! Not a big fan of dismissing candidates for being “pro-biz.” Most of Seattle’s biggest problem, affordable housing, relates to central planning, not the private sector.
I agree. I think some candidates don’t seem to realize what they are actually running for. Many of their issues (income tax, more transit funding, etc.) are great if you were running for a state office, but are simply unattainable at this level. Meanwhile, there is a fair amount of consensus on local transportation and funding issues (within the limits imposed on us). Is there any candidate who thinks the mayor’s transportation plan is horrible?
What is most important and most controversial at this level is zoning rules. This may not be the biggest issue on the local level, but it is close, and the city council (along with the mayor) will have a big effect on how those rules are altered.
Not a big fan of dismissing candidates for being “pro-biz.”
In the context of urban politics, it’s an exercise in profound intellectual laziness. There are lots of people out there who promote their own interests, whether those interests are in the common good are not. Developers do it, Single family homeowners do it, renters do it. For all these groups, sometimes their interests align with the public good and sometimes they don’t. Turning into a morality play with good people (neighborhood folk!) and bad people (developers, tech workers, etc) is really unhelpful in assessing the wisdom of particular candidates and policies.
I see Editorial Board’s concerns with recent statements/actions from O’Brien, but it would be worth noting that he’s actually looking very good in comparison with his main opponent, who took the Tom Rasmussen stance on LR zoning and thinks the HALA proposal won’t help housing affordability.
Cam anyone say anything about D3 candidate Rod Hearne particularly about land use/housing and transportation?
I recall that during the forum I attended, Rod honestly didn’t say, or go into much detail on anything. He did say that it should be easier to build detached cottages in your back yard though.
Oh, he also said he supported “Vision Zero,” that is bringing traffic accident deaths down to zero, which everyone else also supported so not really a differentiation there.
I guess he seemed like a genuinely nice guy though?
I am looking for a list of the candidates in District 5, 8 and 9 that DO NOT support eh HALA proposal as it relates to zoning and giving developers free rein in Seattle.
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