In today’s installment, we present our endorsements in Seattle City Council and County Council races. In most cases, this is a rehash of our Primary Endorsements, albeit with a substantially different editorial committee. 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.

Kohl Welles PhotoCounty Council, District 4: A 25-year veteran of the State Legislature, first in the House and since 1994 in the Senate, Jeanne Kohl-Welles has basically sound views on transportation. She explicitly identifies with outgoing Councilmember Larry Phillips, who is on the right side of issues more often than not. If opponent Rufe Orr has any views on transportation at all, they aren’t obviously accessible on the internet.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 8.36.07 AMDistrict 1: Shannon Braddock was noncommittal in our July endorsement interview, contributing to our “no endorsement” in the crowded District 1 primary. But with only two candidates, the differences have come into focus. Ms. Braddock shows all signs of being in the center-left Constantine/Murray block that is making great progress across the spectrum of transportation and housing for all walks of life. Opponent Lisa Herbold wants to delay some proposed upzones and is apparently unconcerned about potential policy impacts on further market-rate construction.*

Bruce HarrellDistrict 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 a great Vision Zero advocate, helping lead the charge to rechannelize Rainier Ave S 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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 8.38.35 AMDistrict 3: In a disappointing race, we are switching our endorsement to Kshama Sawant. Though Ms. Sawant’s overall approach to land use and housing policy is deeply distressing – indifferent to deterring market-rate housing and demonizing developers instead of recognizing them as crucial to alleviating the housing shortage – she is also the loudest and most consistent voice for much needed public housing development. Fortunately, the centerpiece of her housing agenda, rent control, has almost no chance of becoming law. And that’s a good thing, as rent control has had perverse consequences for housing supply almost everywhere it has been tried.

On the other hand, Ms. Sawant has been a reliable pro-transit vote and a strong supporter of people walking and biking. While she is fond of criticizing the funding source of many measures, in the end she realizes that an imperfectly funded transit measure is better that no measure at all.

Meanwhile, despite earning our primary endorsement, opponent Pamela Banks has strongly disappointed us recently, saying neighborhoods should determine transportation priorities in Move Seattle, claiming bike lanes and road diets are “causing gridlock and havoc in our neighborhoods”, and incorrectly criticizing SDOT for a lack of public outreach, saying projects are happening “to us, not for us.” District 3 needs forward-thinking transportation more than most, so this balkanized and reactionary attitude is unacceptable.

Rob JohnsonDistrict 4: Rob Johnsonlongtime 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.

Opponent 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. He would earn our endorsement in another district.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 8.59.11 AMDistrict 5: Debora Juarez is the candidate most ready to build housing now, without excuses, and fully support the HALA plan. Opponent Sandy Brown impressed us with nimble thinking and problem-solving when we interviewed him, but has since expressed disappointing sentiments about Move Seattle and HALA.


O'BrienDistrict 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 unwillingness to upzone single-family neighborhoods and his fondness for new fees on development. But he has also shown a willingness to compromise, pulling back from residential linkage fees during the development of the HALA Grand Bargain.

Sally BagshawDistrict 7: Downtown resident Sally Bagshaw has been a reliable vote for transit projects and bike lanes, and she has a very welcoming attitude to growth. She will be the critical link between business interests and SDOT in getting the Center City Bicycle Network built. Strongly concerned with equity and safety, she will also be a leader on Vision Zero and Move Seattle implementation.

“District” 8 (at-large) Tim BurgessTim 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.

Opponent Jon Grant is deeply skeptical of the market-rate development that is the broadest component of any plausible solution to the housing shortage.

Lorena Gonzalez“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 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, Zach Shaner, Erica C. Barnett, and Dan Ryan. It serves at the pleasure of the Board of Directors.

* Erica recused herself from voting on this race due to her friendship with Lisa Herbold.

32 Replies to “2015 General Election Endorsements: Seattle”

  1. Why did the Board issue any endorsement in District 3?

    I am very disappointed that the Board is making the argument that “rent control is impossible” so it is ok to ignore Sawant’s view on this. This is tortured logic.

    Rent control will likely be a major element of the housing policy debate for the next four years if Sawant wins. If, as you say, rent control is impossible, Seattle will be spending time (and likely $$$, if we end up in lawsuits with developers or the State) arguing about policies that can’t even happen. That sounds to me like an extremely ineffective way to govern and does nothing to address meaningful housing policy changes that are actually possible.

    Only 1 Council member supported a $15 wage, but we have one now. One member has a lot of influence. I’m surprised the Board is not recognizing this.

    If the Board truly thinks rent control is a terrible idea, supporting its leading advocate is a strange way to show that opinion.

    1. The election is for city council, not emperor. Just because one council member has a wacko idea or two doesn’t mean that it gets past the council.

    2. Eh, I can see why the board endorsed here. Banks went way retrograde on transit and land use issues, and Sawant is reasonable on transit issues and poor on land use. I think Sawant’s transit policies is enough to gain an STB endorsement and think a no endorsement does nothing in a general: no one should abstain from a D3 vote.

      1. I missed what Banks said/did that was anti-transit. Can someone fill me in? Yes I could google it but usually if it’s this local, it’s hard to get concrete details. Much appreciated!

      2. I think the board is referring to the recent D3 debate moderated by our own C is for Crank, where she decried the levy as not responsive to neighborhoods etc. and in her C is for Crank interview, Banks attacked new townhome development because it costed $600k, and replaced an “affordable” SFH.

      3. (For Jon) During the most recent debate at Seattle U, as well as during the Madison forum (prior to the primary) Banks has said several times that congestion is being caused by attempting to accommodate other (non car) forms of transportation, you know, things like transit, bike and pedestrian safety accommodations. Things this blog seem to support strongly. On both occasions she used the 23rd Ave project as an example of something she did not support. At the recent Seattle U debate she derided streetcars because they’re not yet connected and suggested having neighborhoods decide how to use Move Seattle funds – which would easily run counter to building city-wide transportation solutions.

        When asked about housing affordability at the Madison forum, she replied “people have to ask themselves what affordable means.” I’m not really on board with Sawant’s rent control idea, but on transit, she’s far and away better. And on housing, her build municipal public housing with bonds is significantly less out there, Rodger Valdez even supports it.

    3. Hey Alex,

      The difference between $15 and rent control is that one is prohibited by state law.

      If there were a candidate that were solid on both land use and transit/transportation issues, we would have endorsed her. Since there isn’t, we did the best we could with the two options on the table.

      1. Martin, I appreciate the insight into the decision making.

        My concern lies also in “everything short of rent control” tactics that the Council can enact without state law interfering. State law bans laws that “regulate the amount of rent to be charged” but that leaves a lot of gray area about what can be done that looks like rent control but isn’t setting prices.

        Seattle can change rules on evictions, relocation assistance, linkage fees and other areas that could make raising rents difficult and economically challenging, while not technically setting prices. They might trigger legal challenges, but that is costly for developers and creates uncertainty.

        Moreover, state laws themselves can change. Frank Chopp himself said he now supports ending the ban on rent control (maybe that was just to get reelected, but who knows). Particularly, state laws could change for “cities in excess of 600,000 residents” that actively petition the state to change them. I could see the state GOP getting onboard with allowing Seattle to cripple its own housing growth, since it would keep Seattle from growing more influential in state politics.

    4. The minimum wage was largely her doing – which I supported BTW – but it was also a policy within the legal rights of the Council to enact. If that were the case with rent control, I don’t think I would have voted to endorse Kshama. But given her pro-transit votes and legal constraints in bringing about rent control, I feel comfortable with it. Banks’ turn toward narrower neighborhood interests and levy waffling seem more immediately dangerous.

      1. We haven’t yet succeeded in selling the narrative that single-family zoning is an exclusionary relic and a form of legislated privilege. Once we do, I think they’ll be more on our side. They like the mass in mass transit, we just need to get them to like the mass in mass housing.

        Until then, all they’re going to see is “charming old building replaced with expensive new building”.

      2. That’s part of the larger question of how to bring the reactionary or old-style progressives around. The ones who oppose expanding transit service with increased sales tax or car tabs because it hurts poor commuters, and oppose replacing buildings even if it greatly increases the number of units. Never mind that transit expansion would help the poor immensely, that the car-tab fee costs the same as one tank of gas per year (how do they pay for the other 12 or 24 tanks per year? could expanded transit replace those?), and that enough more units means less competition for housing. I don’t know the answer, because they seem to be die-hard believers in false ideas.

      3. “…how can we get her and her red shirt army to be better on land use policy…”

        They have absolutely no desire to be better on land use or housing policy. Maybe once the city is only filled with wealthy residents, the revolution will be an easier sell.

  2. Martin, Zach, Erica, Dan…Did you ask the candidates how often they personally ride transit? And if specifically, how many times they ride the DSTT?

    And how many basic mechanical details they understand about machinery in general, as well as transit in particular?

    And how close they’ve been – required hard-hat range- to a construction project on the order of, for example, the proposed Connector streetcar line, let alone superintending one?

    Also, and age-wise this could be a lot to ask, could you form any thoughts about how current candidates compare in knowledge and motivation with the late Seattle City Councilman George Benson?

    Because I think that, around Seattle at least, ‘way too many candidates I’d generally vote for have to rely entirely on someone else’s word as to how many different sets of transit facts add up to four. Or don’t.

    Could be prejudice from Chicago, and the years, meaning when our country built the world’s best transit electric machinery. That we rode every day.

    But I really think that a professional class familiar only with technology having only a mouse-wheel and a lid- hinge for moving parts too often feels that a career favoring of transit is the same as one building it.

    Or, naming no names, believes it’s possible to propel a boring machine a mile or so, including through the metal pipe in its way, by force of political support.

    I wish I still lived where I could vote for Rob Johnson. But mixed emotions about the fact that former Metro Council Member and civil engineer Paul Barden would have to run as a Democrat today because surveying instruments no longer work if the world is flat.

    Without him and a few more Reublican-preferers of his like, a couple of huge round moles would still be moving same speed as Bertha before LINK Train 1 could yet run. By the above measure: how does this year’s slate measure up?

    Mark Dublin

  3. It’s pretty telling that even a “Socialist” will not openly support fair and equitable property taxes as a means to funding all transportation, education and other governmental infrastructure and services investments that increase the value of holdings.

    1. I’ve been told there are some places in Europe where they work well. Here, they tend to look like the 99 or Mercer Island circulator. The ridership is too low to get good frequency, and the frequency is too low to get good ridership.

    2. Circulator routes tend to have very low ridership because people will either walk or drive rather than wait for a half-hourly bus. A frequent circulator should alleviate that, except that they’re usually used in areas with lots of single-family blocks that don’t generate much ridership. It’s our lack of density pulling down ridership again and making circulator routes non-viable.

    3. There are many reasons, mostly empirical–they’re just generally poor performers. One reason may be that they present frustratingly uneven travel times for round trips. Depending where you are on the circle, a nice and direct 10 minute ride to the store may be followed by a scenic, meandering 35 minute ride home. People without options will shut up and take it, but people who have access to cars are much less likely to do so.

  4. I don’t think there’s a good candidate in District 6, at all. O’Brien keeps pulling these PR stunts that look radically progressive, but aren’t ever going to make it into law (the Uber driver unionization is my key example, here). His tepid inclination to upzone isn’t going to let the city make any progress. And the lack luster performance of Sound Transit (in terms of planning excellent routes vs the mediocre ones we have and are still planning) while he’s been on the board doesn’t allow me to place much confidence in him for transit. Unfortunately, the alternative in district 6 isn’t better at all, so I guess we’re stuck with him.

    I’m still incredibly bummed that Alon Bassok 1) didn’t get endorsed by STB and, 2) didn’t get the ticket from the primary. Seattle needs an urban planner on the council, not more politicians.

  5. District 3 has seen a rapid decline in bussiness due to the lack of community involment. The roughshod decision on 23rd Ave is killing small minority business which seems the goal of gentrification planning.
    We will see the same affects on Rainer Valley

      1. There have been studies since 1971 that the central area was targeted to replace the African American Community. The same planning that went into the original redlinig followed the examples from throughout the nation

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