Seattle Transit Blog interviewed 18 of the 47 candidates running for Seattle City Council in the seven newly created council districts and two citywide seats before making our endorsements last week. The Board chose candidates who were most closely aligned with its core principles, which include support for thoughtful transit investment, spending on key bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, density and transit-oriented development, and concentration of resources into high-quality corridors. They also gave points to candidates who shared our skepticism of taxes on development and policy that promotes auto-oriented lifestyles. They did not interview candidates who they knew did not share these values, or in their view didn’t have a genuine chance to win, because they didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.
But what if the endorsement doesn’t tell you enough about why they endorsed a certain candidate, supported another more tepidly, or declined to back some candidates with generally progressive values? As I participated in the interviews as an advisor to the Board, I’m posting a few outtakes from our interviews to help guide you in your voting decision, or just entertain you if you’ve already voted and want to confirm you done right.
District 1 (West Seattle)
On her top priorities for funding bus service under last year’s Seattle Proposition 1
In this order, I’ve got to go: Congestion at peak hours. I live in West Seattle. There is one way in, there is one way out, so that’s got to be the first thing I tackle. And then after that, it would have to be just in-district mobility. We’ve got the 22 bus route, which is my bus route [and] the bane of my existence. It comes once an hour, it stops at 8:17 or something ridiculous, and it’s at the bottom of a giant hill. So this is the bus route that I am most invested in. Then, after that the 37 down around Alki. … I would like a bus that goes across the West Seattle Bridge to Beacon Hill. And this is completely selfish, because I have a godbaby over there and it takes me forever to get to his cute face.
On parking minimums
I’m content with rolling them back as long as we’ve got matching infrastructure to go with it in a timely, and I do mean timely, manner.
Next to my apartment building, there are 28 units going in with seven parking spots, and everyone is just like, there’s no way only a quarter of these people are going to have cars. It’s impossible. In District 1, like in South Park, for instance, you’ve kind of got to have a car to get to the grocery store, your job, the bank, the post office. Until we pump up the jam on providing services to these pockets of neighborhoods, it’s impossible to make the argument not to have a car.
On parking policies in West Seattle
Parking in District 1 is a pretty hot issue right now, and before we make any changes to the parking policies in West Seattle, we need an area-specific study on what the impacts of our current parking policies are. I think our travel patterns are a little different than other places in the city. A lot of folks use buses to go to work but they drive to run their errands in West Seattle, and I think it’s difficult for people to get around right now. We really need to understand the traffic patterns in West Seattle before looking at changing the parking policies there.
I also think we need to make sure that not only is there truly frequent transit service but that the folks who are living in these buildings really don’t have cars, and the city hasn’t done that analysis.
On displacement that comes with growth
These are people who are coming—it’s not an abstract—but we also have to look at people who are being displaced by upzones. There are 44,000 units in this city that are single-family homes for renters and that are often on the affordable side. If we incentivize the redevelopments of 44,000 structures that are homes for renter households, what have we accomplished? There’s a point when economic development becomes displacement, and we haven’t been very good in this city at defining where that line is and measuring it and making sure we aren’t going from one side of that line to the next.
On whether to make city-funded bus service and transit planning, permanent or let it expire
I would like to view it as a temporary thing, because I believe in the regional transit system and I believe in Metro’s role there. If Seattle is feeling more robust bus service is still needed, I might support continuing city funding; however, my preference is that we as King County voters, would come back and approve [countywide] like they should have in the original [county] Prop. 1. I don’t like go-it-alone stuff all the time in a transit system, but if people are still supportive of it and there’s buy-in from city residents instead of the county, I would support it
On charging for parking in West Seattle
I’m open to discussing charging for parking, but I have not come to any conclusion yet. People will lose their minds, but yeah, I think we have to talk about it.
We are going to need some sort of phase-in approach. It’s going to take a little while for people to get on board. We actually have more parking capacity than most people want to realize or admit to, so for me, it would be a matter of helping people realize, here’s where the cars are, here’s what the capacity is, and maybe we do more residential parking zones.
On park-and-rides at light rail stations in the South End
The challenge right now is that there is not sufficient parking for the folks who want to ride. I live a mile, mile and a half from the station, and I agree with the goal of people being able to get to the light rail station without having to drive, but until we have circulator routes we need to allow more street parking or some transitional solution. I think people are interested in being able to ride light rail and to get there easier, but when you add expansion into picture, and people see garages going up in the north side, it just increases the frustration, the feeling that the South End gets the short end of stick when these investments are being made.
Bruce Harrell (endorsed)
On the proposed rechannelization of dangerous Rainier Avenue S.
In eight years in office, if you look at my voting record related to bike lanes, it’s identical to [council member Mike] O’Brien’s. People don’t think about that because I wear a suit, I don’t wear Dockers every day, but for me it’s been a social justice effort. I’ve consistently said you have to slow things up. There’s a whole other good host of things that comes with rechannelization. We’ve been doing this since 1972. This is our 36th road diet. Yes, there’s some growing pains when you do it, but the end product ends up being worth it.
My bike agenda sort of gets lost, but I’ve always been endorsed by Cascade Bicycle Club. I suppose I should be like Jean Godden with gender equity— just wear a pin and boast about it every chance I get.
On why he voted against plans to upzone at the Mount Baker Town Center site
I know that area better than anyone in this room. I lived right there. My parents lived there for 40 years. It’s ideally suited to be upzoned because it’s actually a valley to begin with. What I don’t like is just giving developers things for free. I think we had a great opportunity to work with developers and get other types of public benefits that the legislature hasn’t given us, whether that’s open space or public safety amenities or traffic amenities. I just didn’t like giving that kind of value in the name of a global upzone, cookie-cutter approach. And by the way, I’m pretty smart at counting votes and I knew that it was going to pass. I wanted to send a message to my colleagues that as we continued to look at opportunities to upzone, we don’t want to squander those opportunities.
Kshama Sawant (Due to a scheduling snafu, Council member Sawant submitted her responses to written questions by email.)
On the proposed HALA upzones
We do need zoning changes in order to expand affordable housing in Seattle. Currently 64% of the city is single-family zoned, and I support the HALA recommendations to increase density in these zones, for example by allowing for more backyard cottages and duplexes.
However … we need to accompany these zoning changes with real solutions like building tens of thousands of units of city owned affordable housing by making big developers pay the maximum linkage fee and using the city’s bonding capacity. We also need rent control to prevent the displacement of the hundreds of thousands of Seattle residents living in market rate apartment buildings.
On parking minimums
In areas with the strongest bus and rail service, lowering or eliminating parking minimums can be possible, but high quality mass transit service and availability are key to moving rapidly away from the environmentally disastrous car-based transit system. If working class and low-income people have no viable alternative to their cars, eliminating parking will not be a successful strategy.
Pamela Banks (endorsed)
On Move Seattle
I support it, [but] one of the frustrations I have, because I worked on light rail, is that the mayor put $10 million in there to put a transit stop at Graham. I tried to fight for that when I worked on Sound Transit as a community liaison. We knew we needed a stop there and it’s frustrating now to see that it’s going to cost $10 million [in Move Seattle dollars] to do something that should have been done in ’05 or ’06, when we could have finished the project. We’ve got to be more forward-thinking. I want to make sure it’s laser focused on things that impact neighborhoods.
On the now-shelved proposal to charge developers a “linkage fee” on new square footage
I’ve heard from developers that they’re going to pass it on. They’re going to make their money some way, so I don’t see how, if you force developers to pay for low-income housing [through a mechanism like a linkage fee], that that housing they build is going to be more affordable. That doesn’t make sense to me, in my mind. That’s what makes me concerned about it. That’s why [the Multifamily Tax Exemption program] makes more sense to me—because it seems like they’d be more willing to build affordable units because they get the tax incentive. To say that you can charge somebody per square foot and they’re not going to pass it on doesn’t lead to building in that scenario, in my mind.
On why she has a car
I keep a car not because of how I get to work every day, but because I like to go camping. I like to take advantage of living in Washington state, and there are a lot of people who are going to want to do that. I live north of Madison and I work south of it, and it is significantly cheaper to drive my personal vehicle every day. I wish I could do the job on a bus route for cheaper and easier than I do taking my car to do it, but I can’t.
On mandatory parking minimums
I do support parking minimums because we’re still a western state and a lot of people here want to enjoy the outdoors. They’re going to have cars. They can’t exclusively rely on buses. I pay to have a secure parking spot. It costs me $85 a month, and I’m about to get rid of it. Eighty-five dollars a month is a lot. If there was a way for the city to subsidize that, I would support it. I would prefer buildings to be required, if they’re building a certain size in District 3, that they do have certain number of commercial or residential set-aside spots that would possibly come from a fee that we assess on the construction or the development of that site.
On allowing more development types in single-family zones
There’s widespread panic in Washington Park that somebody’s going to build a triplex next door. Obviously, that’s not going to happen. But I think that if we’re going to take density seriously, every neighborhood has to step up. The funny thing about Washington Park is that some of those houses are eight or nine bedrooms. More than 100 years ago, they had five kids, a nanny, and a housekeeper. That wasn’t a single-family home.
Rob Johnson (endorsed)
On linkage fees
We’re never getting rent control. We’re not going to get it out of Olympia. We can use it as a political talking point. I can say that I’m going to support a rent control and send a letter to Olympia, but that’s never going to happen, so what we need to do is be smart about the policy options that are in front of us.
The concern I’ve had with the residential linkage fee is that it stifles development. I’m interested in land value taxation, which Sightline has been writing. The about goal there is to get highest and best use out of our existing properties, especially as we move into rezones. Let’s talk about maybe grandfathering some of the single-family homeowners who have been a part of that community for a long time. Maybe [the taxation] applies only on the point of sale [to protect] mom-and-pops who’ve been in the neighborhood for 30 years, but I think that’s the right direction.
On Move Seattle
I have no reservations about Move Seattle. What I have reservations about is making sure we deliver all that we’ve promised and about giving the right-of-way space we need to make sure all those things align.
We’re going to get a lot of neighborhood pushback, and I want to engage the right voices who are going to push back on the pushback.
On Move Seattle and its discontents
I’m not going to oppose the levy but I won’t actively campaign for it.
My concern, above anything else, was just the funding mechanism. I was a big fan of the Licata amendments on funding that would have used the commercial parking and employee hours tax to fund some investment needs in the future. With the commercial parking tax, there’s some concern raised by folks that it’s regressive in nature. Raising it by 5 percent—75 cents on $15 parking—isn’t going to stop you [from parking], and if you’re coming in to Seattle from another city, pay a little bit. Spread the burden around.
On whether Seattle should go it alone on bus funding, as it has temporarily with last year’s Proposition 1
Ideally, what I would love would be for Sound Transit, King County Metro, Everett Transit, and Community Transit to merge together into one super-transit agency. The downside of that is you have folks in Snohomish County trying to get more services that we’re paying for in Seattle, so how do you find that happy sweet spot?