This is the second in a two-part series. Part 1 is available here.
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.
On Move Seattle’s funding for sidewalks
There’s less than five percent of our sidewalk needs that are met in Move Seattle. If that’s what we’re going to do for the next nine years, then it’s disappointing. We’ve got to find solutions that include pedestrian infrastructure. We need sidewalks in Broadview. We need sidewalks in Haller Lake. We need sidewalks in North Maple Leaf. We need sidewalks in Lake City. And we’re still a long way from that.
There is a mixed backing for sidewalks in Seattle–that’s one reason I have felt that [a local improvement district] program [Ed: A hyperlocal tax to pay for sidewalks] could be good. We may not get them in every single street, but they should be included in arterials for our master plan.
On the density proposals in HALA
I think [the upzones] will be very unpopular with traditional Seattle, but it’s the way we have to go. If we set up Seattle in such way that every person gets a couple of parking spots per residence, then they’re going to believe they need to drive those cars everywhere. The idea that we could emphasize transit but then still make it easy and inexpensive to have a car–it doesn’t make sense. We don’t want to coerce people into transit, but we have to help people get used to the idea that transit is now the basic way to get around in Seattle. That’s what our future is.
In my district, there’s a multifamily building that’s going in on Fremont Avenue in north Greenlake with no parking. The neighbors are up in arms, but it’s only three blocks from the E Line. Now, the challenge is there isn’t a great grocery store for about eight blocks from there. We have to make sure that there are necessities that are within walking or biking distance, and that’s not always the case.
Mercedes Elizalde (endorsed)
On why transit service should precede anticipated density
We should start increasing services where we’re trying to increase density, where there isn’t density already, because in the long run we’ll eventually have the numbers to justify [the spending]. Around where I live in Olympic Hills, that neighborhood could see a lot more density coming in, so you’d want to see bus services all day, instead of those peak only-buses or hourly buses. You’d want to prepare more for that new ridership. When we’re trying to justify creating an urban village around transit, the buses need to be there when people are moving in. I’d want to see sign a lot of that [Prop. 1 transit] money going where we have permits on the books and they’re not building yet, but we have permits on books.
On inclusionary zoning vs. linkage fees, and HALA
I am all about inclusionary zoning. That was something I had started saying at the very beginning of my campaign–that inclusionary zoning was going to be better in the long term than linkage fees. I work for a nonprofit housing developer. There are places in the city that we can’t build. Inclusionary zoning just opens up so many parts of the city for more housing. So my reservations are around just making sure that it’s mandatory and making sure it’s inclusionary. In my ideal world, it would be 20 percent of the units at 50 percent of area median income versus 5 percent at 60 percent. With 5 percent, that’s still a lot of units. That’s still a lot of people who are looking for housing that are going to have housing.
From what I understanding, there are still some opt-out provisions where you can still build offsite or pay fees in lieu [of building]. That’s totally fine, as long as it’s at the discretion of the city, not at the request of the developer.
On the HALA committee’s rejection of linkage fees
I was a little bit disappointed to see linkage fees for residential development done away with. I think that to build much more affordable housing and to subsidize more affordable housing, we have to have more revenue to do that, and a linkage fee is certainly one way to do it. There’s lot of talk about doubling the housing levy next year. It’s a nice idea, but we are going to go to voters with a $930 million transportation package this year [too], and asking them to do both this year—that’s a really big ask, particularly for homeowners and seniors in particular.
I’m concerned about property taxes with two back to back, really big asks. I was just talking to a great older lady in her 80s this week, and that was her top issue. She was really concerned about staying in her home while her property taxes continue to go up. I would support a commercial parking tax or employee head tax—those are more progressive and sustainable sources that we have available to pay for transportation.
On changing transportation needs in North Seattle
We do know we do know that this generation doesn’t want to own cars like my generation did. We also know that the millennials and those before them don’t think like my generation. [Joking:] In my neighborhood, I like it that we don’t have sidewalks, because there’s parking everywhere. That’s why I moved up north and stayed there for 25 years—more parking. Parking is important, but if we’re going to shift away from cars, we’re not going to want to encourage that.
On equity in zoning and transportation
Indian people were the first victims of bad zoning, and they put us out in the middle of nowhere. We need to just own it that, into the ’40s and ’50s this is how the cites were zoned. We want to move away from that and move forward.
I’ve owned three homes in the area and there isn’t anything that I was shocked by. I’m actually really impressed that the mayor and his people put this forward. I think we should expand and revisit urban villages, make them a little bigger, [but overall] think it’s bold.
I do have real concern about transportation equity. This country was built on redlining. Now HALA and these other reports have come out saying if we want equity in housing, we have to have equity in transportation, so have to look at neighborhoods that haven’t been served. Income mobility tied to housing and transit is a quality people are just starting to articulate.
Districts 6 and 7
Because neither Mike O’Brien nor Sally Bagshaw has a viable opponent, and because both have been advocates for wise transportation investments and urbanist values, we did not interview the candidates in District 6 or 7.
On Move Seattle and Metro funding
My reservations are, it feels very incomplete, it doesn’t have a rail component, and that without dedicated lanes for transit, and without incorporating that into this big build, it feels like we’ll have to go in and retrofit a lot of that work to accommodate transit later. And it feels like that’s a Seattle thing. We build a thing that’s half-baked and then we have to go back in and bake it fully. If it had a rail component that connected the city to itself, I think that a lot of the duplicated costs could be avoided and it wouldn’t another billion dollars to build lane-separated transit—it could be part of a billion.
I think transit within Seattle should be free. I know that that’s a difficult proposition within the current structure, but we don’t know the value of it until we do it. There are a lot of people that are drunk driving, or not traveling at night, or they don’t have the opportunity to get the job they want because transit doesn’t serve them. I think that a lot of that stuff is you build to the vision and then you reap rewards that you couldn’t have anticipated.
On his approach to density
We shouldn’t be afraid of height. Ultimately, four 50-story buildings have same number of apartments as 50 four-story buildings. It does change the character of places, but so does tearing down 50 current structures to build a bunch of four-story buildings. Rezoning neighborhoods so that you can put more four-story buildings in there isn’t as effective as rezoning a smaller area. When I look at South Lake Union and I see that neighborhood being capped at four-story buildings, I see 10,000 ghost apartments hovering over South Lake Union, and I think, what were trying to preserve down there? Those should all be 40 stories tall. That was something we could have had, and envisioned, and failed to implement.
I’m also a preservationist, so every time a Victorian home gets torn down and replaced with some particle board, stapled-together aPodment, it breaks my heart a little bit. I also recognize that we have housing needs, but practically, maintaining old housing stock is ecologically better. That stuff can be repurposed to house more people. I don’t think it’s all about tear stuff down and build new stuff.
Tim Burgess (endorsed)
On whether Seattle should go it alone on transit funding once last year’s Prop 1 expires
I think the ultimate goal would be that county was actually much more regionally focused and fulfilling the obligations that they have. We should not start our own transit agency.
I’m on the current regional task force that’s wrestling with those issues. A couple of years ago, we changed from 40/40/20 [service allocation by region] to what we have now, which focuses on productivity, which is basically meeting demand. I don’t think we need to change that, so I’m advocating on task force right now for: Let’s keep the status quo.
Now, I also realize that we need to invest in late-night service, which doesn’t always fall into Metro’s list of top priorities. There’s a lot of pressure from Eastside cities to change our focus and focus on all day service on the Eastside, and that would be a disaster. I’m advocating that we maintain what we switched to couple of years ago and to address the needs of cities on the Eastside [with] alternative services. We shouldn’t just change what we just switched to three or four years ago. We need to give it time see how it works.
On “dynamic” parking prices that change by time of day
I love Donald Shoup. I think we’ve moved in the right direction to be data-driven in our parking system. The one thing we’ve not implemented that Shoup recommendations pretty strongly is that parking revenues collected in a specific neighborhood, or some percentage of them, be reserved for that neighborhood, for neighborhood-driven streetscape improvements. It may be lighting, it might be better sidewalks—whatever it is, I’ve been advocating that for several years at the city. [Burgess added that this may require a change in state law].
On whether the city should renew Prop 1 funding
While I was working as the mayor’s general counsel, one of the great frustrations we experienced in these dual county-city systems was the lack of control the city has over funding. That’s why I have a reservation about relying too much on that city-county partnership. But they do have the infrastructure already to run a bus system. I think we as a city need to really be closely monitoring the investment that we’re making in King County, making sure that we’re getting a return on our investment and making sure it’s actually working before making a decision about whether or not we’re going to renew that levy.
On how she would prioritize transit investments
I constantly have the issue of equity in my mind. I’m going to be looking very closely and calling into question any prioritization of investments that aren’t meeting the needs of the lowest-income communities, which include communities of color and refugee and immigrant communities. For example, South Park has a huge issue with bus service. I used to live in South Park and my sister lived in White Center and worked in South Park. It was a little scary for her to have to get off after the night shift at the Safeway in Roxbury and have to get back to White Center. I’ve also heard from other folks that the bus routes around Alki don’t run very frequently or don’t run at all after a particular hour in the evening. So my focus is on just making sure that overall, we’re getting back what we’re investing.