[UPDATE: Mike McGinn says we misunderstood his position on neighborhood involvement. We’ve corrected the paragraph by eliminating the reference.]

The STB Editorial Board, as always, evaluates its candidates solely on their ability to deliver its agenda of improved transit service and density. To explain our endorsement of former Rep. Jessyn Farrell, it is probably easiest to use the process of elimination.

Sen. Bob Hasegawa has poor instincts on transportation. In spite of being a former Metro driver, he puts a relatively high priority on cars. Although he eventually clarified that he supports ST3, he is better known for criticizing the agency’s governance, taxes, and impacts on the community in strident terms. Moreover, he views Seattle’s displacement crisis as created by taxes, including both regressive sales taxes and relatively progressive ones like MVET and property tax. This attitude is unlikely to lead to new and renewed funding for transit and housing given the available tools.

Nikkita Oliver shares Sen. Hasegawa’s skepticism of existing transit taxes as a net good. While we applaud her passion for public housing, she is unconcerned that her policies might discourage the private development that is also necessary for a sustainable and inclusive future. Finally, while she is a magnetic and effective organizer, her lack of public-sector political experience increases the risk she will fail to effectively form and implement policy in the departments.

Jenny Durkan has positioned herself as the continuity candidate from Mayor Ed Murray. We believe Mayor Murray has been historically effective in passing significant transit and land use policy changes, and a continuation of his policy machine is attractive. However, Ms. Durkan does not have a long record on transportation and land use, and does not appear to be the vehicle for a fundamental rethink of the centrality of cars in our city’s planning.

Jessyn Farrell

That leaves three major candidates with very strong urbanist credentials: former Mayor Mike McGinn, Cary Moon, and Ms. Farrell. They are all for more, broad-based density and de-emphasis on rapid throughput of cars.

Mike McGinn, as mayor, pushed for all the right things. He made many positive incremental improvements,  but could not persuade the Council or voters to back his bigger initiatives. He may have learned from his tactical mistakes. But he recently issued a firm promise of no real increase in sales or property taxes. These are the principal levers available to fund necessary projects and programs. While sales tax is regressive, property tax is not. In any case, transportation and housing projects are both worth funding regardless of the source.

While we could further parse the policy statements of Cary Moon and Jessyn Farrell, these differences are small, and likely to disappear in the swirl of events and council politics.

Instead, we should examine who is most likely to deliver their agenda. Like Ms. Oliver, Cary Moon has no government experience and may have the same teething troubles that other novices have. We’d be prepared to take a chance on her, but for the presence of Jessyn Farrell.

Rep. Farrell has a long record fighting for transportation alternatives. Before quickly becoming a leading light in the small Olympia transit caucus, she was an executive at Pierce Transit. Before that, she was the head of the Transportation Choices Coalition, advocating for bike, pedestrian, and transit investments at all levels of government. In each position, she was working within the system rather than in the streets against it, which is exactly the skill set needed by a mayor. We believe Jessyn Farrell will do the best job advancing the best policies. She deserves your support for Mayor of Seattle.

The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Dan Ryan, and Brent White.

149 Replies to “Jessyn Farrell for Mayor”

  1. McGinn lost my vote after he called the officers in the Charlena Lyle case murderers before any evidence had been published to even make that kind of determination.

    It’s a shame, because his idea for leveraging Seattle’s borrowing power to expedite ST3 projects is novel and somewhat brilliant.

  2. Your one-sentence summation of property tax “not” being regressive is wrong. The combination of loading more revenue needs onto property tax, and the extreme valuation of even modest houses, has seriously weakened the link between people’s ability to pay and the amount asked of them. The statement that transportation projects are “worth funding regardless of the source” is also way off the mark. For instance, if transportation were to be funded solely from taxes on the revenue of not-for-profit corporations, you’d be screaming.

    I agree Jessyn Farrell is a strong pro-transit candidate. However, Mike McGinn’s pledge to not raise sales or property taxes seems very attractive to the majority of Seattle’s voters, and he is also strongly pro-transit. Maybe STB feels bound to endorse a single candidate, but it’s not unusual for groups to issue double or even triple endorsements. Why not do the same here?

    1. A tax can be progressive and still leave asset-rich/cash-poor households struggling to make ends meet.

    2. The trials of people with million-dollar assets but poor cash flow is far down the list of the things Seattle should be working to alleviate. A “progressive” tax, strictly defined, relates to income, but philosophically taxes on wealthy people with little income are equally just.

      When we say “regardless of the source”, we are of course referring to revenue sources that are actually in the discussion and deployed by governments somewhere, not absurd hypotheticals. If the tax were actually on non-profits in the context of a larger tax on corporations, we’d probably support it. In any case, sales tax is regressive, but we have always felt that transportation and public housing needs are too important to dither about the nature of the funding, and have supported sales tax measures consistently.

      There are lots of great ideas for more progressive funding sources than sales tax. Some will be forbidden by the legislature, the courts, or the Council. When the chips are down, and we have transportation needs and only regressive tools to deal with them, I want a Mayor who will use the tools available to address the problem.

      1. “The trials of people with million-dollar assets but poor cash flow is far down the list of the things Seattle should be working to alleviate.”

        I’m afraid I will have to disagree with you there. In Seattle, this problem is more common than you might think, and it relates to questions of equity and housing affordability that people also seem to care a lot about. Unfair taxation is the issue that brought this country into existence. I think Mike McGinn might be tapping into a pretty big vein of support.

      2. We’ll see if it’s “a big vein of support” or not. That’s not the claim we’re making here. The claim is that it is morally wrong to deny services needed by everyone, and particularly poor people, on behalf of people with substantial wealth.

    3. “The combination of loading more revenue needs onto property tax, and the extreme valuation of even modest houses, has seriously weakened the link between people’s ability to pay and the amount asked of them.”

      The bolded part is a pernicious myth that needs to be debunked. Property taxes are based on a fixed amount to be collected. If valuation rises across an entire county, as has happened in King County, tax rates per $1000 of value go down. Assessments are not used to determine the amount of property tax paid, but the allocation of that tax between taxpayers.

      When value rises much faster in one area than another, then owners in the hot area will feel the pinch. But when valuation rises across the county, no one’s taxes go up.

      For what it’s worth, I’m a City of Seattle SFH owner. My assessed value is probably three-quarters of the actual value of my house. And on that artificially low assessed value, my rate is the lowest of any place I’ve lived — which includes two jurisdictions with substantial income taxes. Property taxes in Seattle are reasonable, even after recent voter-approved additions.

      1. Our assessed value is about 100K below the zillow estimate (475K v 575K). Based on recent sales, if anything the zestimate seems low.

      2. I agree completely, David. I am taxed here on a property value that is also probably 25% below its actual value (although not, I believe, what the Zillow “value” is). The home I’m familiar with in South Carolina, for example, is taxed at a higher rate, in a location with a state income tax and sales tax rate of 7% – they don’t like to have businesses pay much down there either in taxes or wages, preferring to take it out of the individual, which is why they have a poor tax base. That home is also appraised/taxed at about 75% of its actual value. We also choose via the ballot a good percentage of what we’re taxed for here, which isn’t the case there.

      3. “…a pernicious myth that needs to be debunked.”

        I have read the explanations the county makes about property tax rates as well. Somehow, though, it simply doesn’t add up. The total levy rate on my property has fluctuated only a tiny amount over the last two years, as have the individual levy rates. The actual tax amount, however, has gone up a whopping 25% over two years, right in line with my property value. Clearly more big increases are on the way.

        I’m glad some of the commenters here understand the asset-rich, income-poor paradox. That is an improvement over what people here were saying a year ago. (“Sell and get out of Seattle, you rich bastard!”) I’m not entirely sure what you call a tax that increases all out of proportion to the ability to pay. “Regressive” doesn’t sound quite right, but it sure as hell ain’t “progressive.”

  3. The Seattle Transit Blog obviously has the right to endorse as they please. But you misrepresent my position on community input on zoning changes. Calling for greater public input before decisions are made is not the same as saying neighborhood organizations are the proper unit for land use decisions. That is a city level decision, guided by state growth management laws. For a more thorough discussion see my article in crosscut http://crosscut.com/2016/06/is-there-room-on-neighborhood-councils-for-%E2%80%8Brenters/. I hope you can correct that misstatement of my position. From my experience, I believe we will accomplish more through engagement than through top-down fiat. As for holding the line on property and sales taxes, there is a lot of room to save money on wasteful projects, and raise money from our successful corporations, depending on political will. Our current regressive tax path is fiscally and politically unsustainable, and will undercut support for needed transit in the long run And there is a difference between the candidates you do not mention – which is that is winning transit by signing off on massive highway expansion is a recipe for both environmental and fiscal ruin. I appreciate your support of transit over the years, and offer these comments in the spirit of common cause.

    1. Mike,

      Would you pursue any form of congestion fee for driving (SOV or all vehicular) in Seattle? This is one thing I’d like to see implemented in any form and would vote for a candidate that tackles the vehicular congestion problem aggressively.

    2. Wow that sounds exactly like republicans who want to pay for tax cuts by eliminating “waste fraud and abuse”

      But seriously, if as you claim the STB editorial board is misrepresenting you, how is the world you’re advocating for and today’s world any different?

      1. While his comments about reducing waste should certainly raise eyebrows in the absence of any detail, his follow up point about shifting focus to corporate taxes definitely indicate that his head and heart are in the right place.

    3. Mayor McGinn,

      I’m sorry that we misinterpreted your statements on this issue. We’ve deleted the reference to neighborhoods.

    4. Mike, every day public transit loses a very large amount of money in drivers’ wages, fuel, and needless maintenance because buses and streetcars full of passengers are stopped when they should be moving. More than anything else, our transit system needs non-transit vehicles, including parked, and badly-set traffic signals out of its way.

      So here are some questions. On your first day of office, would you be willing to exert all your authority, and enlist full cooperation of the City Council, to close the entire length of Third Avenue through Downtown to every vehicle except Metro and possibly Sound Transit buses? And order SDOT to set traffic signals so no bus has to stop at a red light a half block from its next stop?

      And on every arterial in Seattle, at least through rush hours, completely close the curbs on every arterial subject to congestion to parking? And finally, close all streetcar lanes to other traffic? I really doubt these measures would require a dime’s worth of increase in property taxes. To save thousands in easily measurable lost operating time.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Better yet, close the streetcar period. A solution still looking for a problem.

      2. Good points, Mark – and I believe that at the very least Third Avenue should have transit-only lanes all the way to Denny even if we can’t get a transit mall, or can’t get one north of Stewart. I’m surprised this relatively inexpensive possibility never came up during the transportation discussions regarding the Key Arena renovations; we heard about Link (in 15 years), Lyft/Uber (because adding cars to alleviate already bad traffic makes perfect sense), and freaking DRONES…but not prioritizing the already frequent bus service that leaves a half-block from Link Westlake and takes you nearly all the way to the Key in what would be much less than 10 minutes with dedicated lanes. I prefer SoDo for several reasons, but something like this would alleviate much of the problems getting to the Center for all kinds of events.

      3. Third Avenue is already closed to non-transit vehicles during rush hours through Downtown (from Pine to Yesler). If you close it all the way to Denny you will not save much – this is the part of 3rd avenue that (seems to me) is not congested at all. Which means you will not save much in time / fuel / maintenance.

        (I cross the downtown from north to south twice a day each day, so I know very well traffic patterns)

      4. Not important–i got i on a bus at pine Street and began reading this article, and this far through the comments. We’re still waiting to get to Bell Street. I’m pretty sure it is not accurate to say third avenue is not congested north of Pine!

    5. Mike, thank you for responding. It’s always welcome when candidates engage us. But I think the Ed Board wasn’t wrong, based on your public statements. (This comment isn’t on behalf of the Ed Board, of which I’m not a member, or STB as a whole, but purely my own opinion.)

      I think that in your 2017 campaign you have tried to have it both ways on the issue of where density is sited. You have tried at the same time 1) to reassure urbanists and pro-housing folks that you understand that more housing is necessary to keep prices under control, and 2) to reassure the historically anti-housing “neighborhood” activist base that they will continue to have access to the same process through which they have always been able to keep housing out. You can’t have it both ways. Empowering neighborhoods results only in development being concentrated in areas with less power, which has been a real problem. I think real leadership on this issue would be a simpler message, more like the one Jessyn Farrell has advocated: “All neighborhoods need to do their share to keep housing affordable for all.” This is a situation where the interests of the whole city and the interests of a few historically powerful activists are in direct contradiction, and the city’s mayor should be very clear that the interests of the whole city come first.

      1. I agree. I feel like McGinn is basically trying to have it both ways (for now). He probably assumes that name recognition and experience will get him into the general election. From there, he can emphasize his experience, and pivot ever so slightly to appeal to one demographic or the other. If he faces Durkan, he will emphasize his “urban roots” and try once again to pick up the endorsement of The Stranger. If he faces Moon (or even Farrell) he will talk about the process, and how we need to listen to the folks who live in single family neighborhoods (and avoid destroying the character of those places, blah, blah, blah …).

    6. You are doing a great job Mike! You have many supporters. No more property tax increases, cut government waste, community input is vital to fix Seattle. Just say no to any “Congestion” fee. Think about this: Seattle is more than Metro Transit, radical thought. You have supporters beyond this small subset on this blog.

    7. Mike;

      In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to marry transit expansion & highway expansion. But we don’t live in that world. As the Seattle Times’ Danny Westneat pointed out, it ain’t Seattle that runs the state legislature – it’s the small towns, exurbs and hinterlands that band together to hold a thin red line…


  4. Good call, STB. The MVET vote was bad judgment on her part, but it didn’t end up becoming law, and her pros outweigh that one con. Moon is a close second, but I worry about her misguided focus on foreign buyers as the cause of the housing crisis. But I’d be thrilled to have either as our mayor.

    As a transit person, I always make myself remember that I’m not only voting for Mayor, but for a high-profile Sound Transit Boardmember too. Farrell would be the best of the group in that role, IMO.

    1. I actually have a contrarian defense of Farrell’s MVET vote once that bill is decidedly dead, or passes the legislature.

      1. My guess is that it is dead, even if it theoretically could still be passed. The governor himself would have to really want to see this passed, and I seriously doubt that is the case. My guess is this will be a table veto. There is little political value in Inslee touching it. After all, the tough work was done (they passed a budget, including dealing with the school issue), folks are back home, and letting an issue like this just waste away is no big deal.

        Personally, I think the MVET legislation was just political theater (like whining about HOT lanes). Nothing will actually happen but it let folks know that there are strong opponents for similar changes in the future. For MVET, it basically means they will never again use the old formula. I’m OK with that approach, and I think most people are.

    2. Dan Ryan articulated a version of the contrarian defense a couple of months ago:


      My view is that the vote was a misstep on Farrell’s part, but not enough of one to warrant endorsing another candidate. In my opinion, all of the other candidates have made worse missteps. I’d particularly point to Mike McGinn’s apparent embrace of neighborhood process in housing and Cary Moon’s cop-out blame of “speculators” and Wall Street for high housing prices.

      1. Once again, I agree David. I would also add that maybe Farrell knew that the vote was merely symbolic (meant to appease some folks on the other side of the aisle, and even a few on this side) and thus not meaningful. Send a clear message that you are unhappy with the MVET rules, but in the end, you know very well that the governor won’t sign the bill. That way the issue slowly dies, which it has. Notice how little has been said about it the paper, despite the Seattle Times having an entire staff look at transportation issues. I doubt it has been getting much press elsewhere and if the governor doesn’t sign it, I really doubt the legislature will go back into session to deal with the issue.

      2. The “speculator” critique really bothers me, especially when it comes from such smart people who understand economics and land use policy. Most of the current affordable housing going up has been the result of a speculator getting to bundle properties, and then get favorable upzoning. In some of those cases, that speculator just happened to be Sound Transit. Metro is doing similar speculation on properties around Northgate Station.

        An anti-speculation tax creates a catch-22: You let people continue renting there and then “displace” them; you clear the place by attrition, giving notice that the property will be redeveloped at some point in the distance future; or you give up and let the property continue to be low-density underuse. That catch-22 is a win-win-win for NIMBYs and a lose-lose-lose for urbanists.

      3. A “speculation tax” is usually about individual units, not entire apartment buildings. It’s expected that apartment owners won’t necessarily live in the building or even in Seattle. The closest counterpart there would be a foreigners’ tax to discourage foreign absentee ownership.

        “Most of the current affordable housing going up has been the result of a speculator getting to bundle properties, and then get favorable upzoning.”

        That’s in the current market under the current rules. With different rules you might see more lower-cost smaller buildings replacing houses. These could intrinsically rent for less with the same profit margin, and be more within reach for individual owner-developers who want to provide workforce housing.

      4. One important factor is how buildings are financed. Since the 1980s a lot of the money has come from Wall Street, and investors expect to get their money back in 19 years and a high profit. That promotes “Build it fast, build it luxury, push the edges of what the market will bear”. Whereas smaller local developers may be willing to take a smaller profit because they can’t get Wall Street financing or they care about the long-term asset value and about the community. So we could take steps to regulate the financing and discourage Wall Street investors, and that would have a downward pressure on prices even if you don’t change the zoning. Of course it would require a cooperative state and federal government to allow it. If Elizabeth Warren were in charge things would be changing.

  5. I’m surprised McGinn’s plan to speed up ST3 didn’t get a mention. Or even ST3 at all. This is the city’s biggest transportation project by orders of magnitude and the Ed Board didn’t review (or if they did, didn’t mention) the candidates stance on it?

    1. All the major candidates except Nikita Oliver have a similar plan to expedite permitting. It certainly isn’t a major distinction between the three most urbanist candidates.

      1. I’m not talking about permitting, I’m talking about McGinn’s plan to use city funds to speed up ST3:

        But even when permitting is complete, Sound Transit has another issue – it must stage its projects to reflect its cash flow. ST construction is paid for with borrowing, and ST can only borrow so much at a time. That is how it has paid for past and ongoing construction. As revenues come in to pay down those bonds, ST borrows more to advance the later projects. That sequencing is understandable, but it means that light rail to West Seattle and Ballard will take longer than required by the technical logistics of building a light rail line.

        Seattle can potentially help shave years off the timeline if it works to accelerate planning and permitting, and partners with Sound Transit to ease the cash flow crunch. That means coming to the table with resources that are meaningful enough to make a difference.

        So here is my commitment if elected:

        1. Work with Sound Transit to front load planning for Seattle projects as much as possible. To prevent delaying other regional projects, that probably means Seattle needs to come forward with monetary contributions or other resources. In 2011 we did that to advance joint planning to Ballard, which actually led to Sound Transit advancing its planning regionwide.

        2. Work with Sound Transit to identify how to shorten the permitting process consistent with sound analysis and public input. We need to ensure we don’t end up the way Bellevue did, locked in a long dispute over alignment. If we do step 1 and 2 right, we can move more quickly with construction if moneys become available from any source. Recall, this is a multiyear process, and we should not yet give up hope that we might get a transit-friendly President and Congress in the years to come.

        3. Work with Sound Transit to understand how much money they would need, and when, in order to significantly advance the timelines to complete Seattle projects. We could then assess Seattle’s ability to either use its borrowing ability to to make bridge loans to Sound Transit, or our ability to help finance some parts of the project.

  6. Like Martin, I’m fascinated and disturbed by how everyone suddenly seems to think it makes sense to call property tax “regressive.” It’s a tax on accumulated (and rapidly appreciating!) wealth. The intergenerational wealth boost associated with home ownership is a major factor in the class inequality across generations. It’s a counter to the highly regressive interest mortgage tax deduction. It’s not as progressive as a proper progressive income tax, of course, but it is not regressive. I think this must just come from people saying “I don’t feel rich, and I pay a lot in property taxes” so therefore…. McGinn is just shamelessly pandering to these people.

    1. I agree that it is not right to call a property tax regressive, but I kinda see where they’re coming from.

      Land values are so high in Seattle now that it is hard to see where the “low value” properties end and the “high value” properties begin. There is a very high floor on the value of a Seattle property. The difference between the value of an “inexpensive” condo/apartment overlooking I-5 and a swanky SFH in Madison Park is around 300%, while the difference in incomes of those two potential buyers is likely closer to 1000%.

      So while technically it’s closer to a flat tax, I can see why it might feel regressive to some.

      1. It is “regressive” when you consider that all property taxes ultimately pass down to either the owner, or the rental tenant. It is easy to believe as a renter who is priced out of the housing ownership market that you are somehow “sticking it to the man” when you vote to approve endless property tax increases. It requires just a modicum of understanding of economics to realize that these taxes will ultimately be yours to pay as well. If the condo unit you are renting on Capitol Hill is valued at $600k, you will be paying about the same in property tax as someone who owns a $600k little house in Maple Leaf. The logic goes that the renter is usually lower income than the owner, and they aren’t building wealth inequity, so yes, property taxes are a regressive tax. I am baffled by the discourse among candidates and current leaders that seem to believe that we need to fight for housing affordability by increasing the cost of housing.

      2. Land values are so high in Seattle now that it is hard to see where the “low value” properties end and the “high value” properties begin.

        I don’t understand this sentence. It seems to be claiming it’s impossible to reasonably estimate the value of specific properties, due to high land values. But all the normal tools for valuation would seem to work just find under such conditions. Why wouldn’t they?

        To be clear, I have some sympathy for some people with “million dollar assets and poor cash flow”–people who’ve lived in their home for a long time, and would like to spend their golden years in the community where their friends and social networks are are a sympathetic case. I’d support some sort of deferred property tax plan upon for low-income seniors. But that’s a special case.

        In my own case, we bought a (3 bedroom, 1400 square foot) house in Mayor McGinn’s neighborhood in 2010 (we’re not rich–probably around 100-110% of AMI–and couldn’t afford it now). If our property taxes were to suddenly go up by some huge amount like 50%, that would require some moderately difficult budgeting decisions and/or lifestyle changes on our part. But *our monthly bill would still be less than most people renting a 1 bedroom in this neighborhood (and their monthly rent might go up just as much as our monthly mortgage+tax payment), and we’re still gaining 30-50K in wealth through appreciation every year, which we absolutely don’t deserve in any meaningful sense. The idea it’s some sort unfair injustice for us to pay a little more for good transit, parks, affordable housing programs, etc. is just patently absurd to me.

      3. (to be clear I mean “couldn’t afford to buy our house, or any house in this neighborhood, now”–we can afford our own house and taxes just fine.)

      4. It is “regressive” when you consider that all property taxes ultimately pass down to either the owner, or the rental tenant.

        The renters pay property taxes thing is wildly overstated. We live next door to a duplex and know the owner (who lives in another house on the block). The rents for those two units have gone up by around 80% since 2010, because there’s a scarcity of rental units in the area and the city in general, and the neighborhood is becoming more desirable, accordingly, people are willing to pay more. The property taxes have gone up *much* less than that–probably around 20% over the same period. I see no reason to believe that if she’d been exempt from tax increases, she’s be charging less in rent. She sets her rents based on what the market will bear (with some discount to encourage good tenants to stay).

        In an environment with no significant scarcity, where renters seeking units and available units exist in similar numbers, and increases in the number of renters are quickly matched in units, it makes sense to say property taxes will probably be passed on in rents. But the *huge* gap between property tax increases and rent increases is a clue that a very different dynamic is at work in a market like Seattle. Lots of small-time landlords like to say it’s about the property taxes, because they’re embarrassed to admit they’re taking advantage an unearned windfall due to skyrocketing rents across the board when raising their tenants rents. But to think they’d treat their investment as a charity and offer lower rents than they could get, in essence gifting their tenants their own tax savings, seems exceedingly naive.

      5. @djw:
        I don’t mean to say that it’s impossible to see the difference, I just mean that the boundary is made more fuzzy by the very high floor on housing prices. The entire range of housing prices in Seattle is very narrow, compared to the much wider range of incomes.

        I’m not trying to bring renters vs. owners into this; I think everyone in the city (and definitely everyone in this comment section) understands that landlords pass on 110% of their costs to tenants. I left my post renter/owner agnostic for this reason. The I-5 condo resident could be an owner, the madison park resident could be a renter, and it doesn’t change my point.

        But regressive has a specific meaning. Wikipedia: “A regressive tax is a tax imposed in such a manner that the tax rate decreases as the amount subject to taxation increases.” Our property tax is flat; no matter how much or little a property is worth in Seattle, it is subject to the same flat rate of $9.25 per $1000 of value.

        The appearance of regressiveness comes from the high floor on housing values in Seattle, which pushes those at the lower end of the income spectrum into buying (or renting, same diff) more expensive homes than they would otherwise choose to (i.e. someone making 1/4 of median income living in property that’s 3/4 of median value). This is a result of Seattle’s distorted, supply-constricted housing market, and doesn’t mean the tax structure itself is regressive.

        For the record, I think flat taxes in general suck, and they are barely any better than truly regressive taxes.

      6. Rents are based on supply and demand, not taxes. After the 2008 crash a lot of people moved away and there were a lot of vacancies and rent decreased. Taxes didn’t decrease then but rent decreased anyway. In the years before the crash and in the current era, annual rents are rising faster than tax increases. Some landlords try to blame the increases on taxes and utilities but that’s clearly a sham because those haven’t been rising 5-10% per year.

        The opposite situation, where taxes rise but no prospective renter is willing to pay a higher rent, is possible but very unlikely. The landlord’s instinct in this situation might be to get out of the rental business. At this point the city should step in to help landlords somehow to maintain a viable rental market. But when the shoe is on the other foot like it is now, the city should help tenants. That could be done in any number of ways, like fixing the market, making it more competitive for tenants, building public housing, arranging financing for nonprofits and local developers who focus on no-frills housing and land trusts and such to keep prices reasonable, a good rent control plan like Germany’s, etc.

    2. Renters have to pay property taxes too, buried in the rent. In a tight rental market, landlords can pass on a greater share of their property taxes to their tenants. I’d venture the vast majority of landlords’ property taxes is paid (economically speaking) by tenants in Seattle today.

      Tenants are generally less wealthy and have lower incomes than the people who own property. This doesn’t make a property tax regressive in a technical sense, however, because wealthier people tend to rent larger homes.

      Tenants get no tax deductions, nor do they benefit from the rapidly appreciating properties their landlords own. Most can’t even save much money to buy a property because of the rent they pay.

      1. Renters have to pay property taxes too, buried in the rent. In a tight rental market, landlords can pass on a greater share of their property taxes to their tenants.

        See above–this really doesn’t describe the rent dynamic in Seattle, where increases in rents have been much, much larger than increases in property taxes. In some alternative universe which a freeze on property taxes but with comparable scarcity and low vacancy rates, do you really think Seattle rents would be lower? People like money, including landlords.

      2. “In a tight rental market, landlords can pass on a greater share of their property taxes to their tenants.”

        That’s a funny way of saying landlords can pass on 100% of their property taxes (which they were already doing) and the rest is pure profit.

      3. Renters have to pay property taxes too, buried in the rent.”

        In the short-run, rents have nothing at all to do with property taxes. The supply of rental properties is fixed and rents are determined only by demand.

        Over some longer period, property taxes reduce new supply (the tax reduces the after-tax value of improvements, so there is less construction). But that’s a slow process.

      4. I didn’t say property taxes were the main driver of rent increases. I said that renters are likely paying the majority of landlords’ property taxes precisely because the rental market is very tight. The main driver of rent increases in Seattle is demand, plain and simple. However, any property tax increase can likely get passed through to rents in a tight market.

        If the supply of rental housing increased, landlords would lose pricing power and would end up covering more of the property tax burden themselves.

      5. @ Mike

        Specifically focusing on property tax increases, landlords can much more easily pass on a tax increase in Seattle because vacancy rates are low. In areas with high vacancy rates, however, that would be more difficult. Tenants could simply move to another vacant property if their landlords raised the rent.

      6. I said that renters are likely paying the majority of landlords’ property taxes precisely because the rental market is very tight.

        If by majority you mean “100% and then some” sure. My neighbor’s duplex is probably taxed around 5K. The rents she collects pay her annual property tax bill around the third week of February. (And Yes, I know she has other expenses associated with the rental, which just means she’s not in “pure profit” mode until sometime later in the Spring.)

      7. Another way to phrase what folks have been saying: Property tax increases don’t get passed on to the renters in this market. They come out of the landlord’s existing profit margin.

    3. The problem is the sudden and rapidly rising home prices which is throwing what’s ordinarily a ho-hum tax regime off balance. When prices rise faster in Seattle than in SeaTac, it makes Seattlitrs’ tax burden higher, and some people did not have enough extra for the increase, perhaps because they’re on fixed income. Others rail against property taxes no matter what their level. I have sympathy for homeowners but not to the extent of overlooking the $300K++ asset they have that renters don’t. At worst they can sell, while renters will be homeless. The cause of To fix the problem we have to get at the root of it, which is not taxes but the fact that Pugetopolis did not have much spare inventiyvin 2011 so any bug influx of people would have caused this situation, and it was bigger than Seattle had ever experienced. We need to build enough new infill units that people aren’t competing so heavily for them, and recognize that even people making $55K can’t afford market-rate housing and need some other housing available.

      1. Mike, prices have not been rising faster in Seattle than in SeaTac. That was true in the first years of the recovery (2012-13), but not anymore, as lower-price areas have become the only ones accessible to middle-class buyers. Price increases are now broad-based, occurring at pretty similar rates throughout the county.

      2. Mike, total non-voter-approved property taxes in a given jurisdiction can rise only 1% plus the percentage gain in population of that jurisdiction. As David pointed out above, valuation changes can alter the allocation of the allowable increase within a jurisdiction, but a 20% rise in assessed valuation will NOT produce a 20% rise in taxes due.

    4. In all likelihood, a property tax is flat (neither progressive or regressive).

      Meanwhile, a sales tax is regressive as are taxes on alcohol and sugar as well as fees such as licenses (e. g. a nursing license). The part of the car tab tax that is based on the car itself (not it’s value) is regressive. The other part is probably flat (I don’t think a $20,000 car is taxed at more than twice the rate of $10,000 car).

      B and O taxes are a mix. Their is a minimum amount that you have to make before you are taxed, so they are ever so slightly progressive in that sense (the progressiveness gets smaller the more money you make). But not everyone pays them, and the result is that is is fairly regressive for low income small business owners. The money comes from income they could conceivably earn, yet the tax never concerns itself with income. For example, a brewery could make only 50 grand a year, but pay 5 grand in B and O taxes, making it a very regressive tax. Meanwhile, someone who works at Amazon and pulls down six figures doesn’t pay a dime in B and O tax.

      So, of the taxes available, a property tax is probably the least regressive tax. It is not as progressive as a progressive income tax* or a capital gains tax, but still less regressive than the alternative. As Martin said, though, I would rather pay for essential services through a regressive tax than not pay for them at all.

      * An income tax does not have to be progressive (e. g. a flat tax) but most are.

    5. My general issue with property taxes is that I don’t consider my house value to really be part of my net worth. Just because my house is worth, say, twice what I bought it for does not give me any value out of that. Nor am I generating any additional income from my house just because the value has increased. Yet I am being forced to pay more in property taxes because my house is supposedly worth more.

      Why is this an issue? Suppose I bought my house today for $500k. Next year, there’s a big hiring binge by all the local companies and the value of my house doubles. Great – I’m a millionarie now but I’m paying double the taxes on it. Let’s say I decide I’m going to sell the house in 5 years. But before I do, a recession starts, many people lose their jobs, and I can only sell my house for $500k. I’ve paid double the taxes on it, but I’ve never realized any gain from my house.

      Now, for me, given my income vs. the value of my house, I’m betting property taxes will cost me less than income taxes. So I’m not really complaining. But I definitely understand the people who do complain.

      1. i don’t think that’s how the property tax works, atleast in King County. It might be true if the valuation goes up only for your home and not the rest. However if the valuation of all homes double, the tax you pay will only go up by approx. 1% (assuming there are no new voter approved initiatives). The property tax rate will accordingly go down. Your taxes will go up significantly only if the valuation of your home goes up by a lot relative to other homes in your jurisdiction.

        This is probably why the property tax rate ($tax per $1000 value) for homes in Seattle is much lower than most cities in South King County.

      2. The point is that you have an asset you can sell, which would cover your rent for 10-20 years, or you can pass down to your children and they can have a nest egg, and over multiple generations they’ll tend to become wealthy. Whereas renters if they can no longer afford rent, become homeless, and because it’s hard to get back into rental housing or get a job when you’re homeless, it may last the rest of your life, or you may have to move to someplace much smaller and with less job prospects like Mt Vernon or Spokane. So I understand homeowners don’t realize the asset until they sell, but that’s the same with stocks or anything else: it’s still an asset, and a large one, and they have options if they get into a tight place. much larger than the difference between what rent is and what renters can afford.

      3. My general issue with property taxes is that I don’t consider my house value to really be part of my net worth.

        Lots of homeowners say this. But, it is! You own it and you can sell it and make a huge profit. That makes it “part of your net worth”. Lots of investments don’t generate income until you sell them, but no one would suggest that means they’re not part of your net worth.

        Suppose I bought my house today for $500k. Next year, there’s a big hiring binge by all the local companies and the value of my house doubles. Great – I’m a millionarie now but I’m paying double the taxes on it.

        As has been explained repeatedly in this thread, THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS. 1% per year is the cap. If you’re rate is going up more than 1% it’s because your house is appreciating more rapidly than the average increase. In the scenario you describe, tax bills creep upward and the effective rate plummets.

      4. Plus you can get a line of credit against your home equity to meet your cash flow needs.

  7. I’d vote for Farrell in a heartbeat if it weren’t for her MVET vote. Note only did that vote reduce ST’s probability of delivering much needed projects on time, but it was a slap in the face to her constituents (myself being one) who voted for ST3 mere months prior. I knew what I was voting for, and I don’t need my elected politicians second-guessing my level of awareness over the referenda I vote on. I’d love to hear your contrarian defense, Martin H. Duke.

    That said, Farrell may still get my vote. I voted for McGinn in the last two mayoral elections, but his positioning this cycle seems to be on the side of ‘neighborhood activists’ who want to slow down much-needed development. And I agree that attempting to define property taxes as regressive seems like pandering to the Seattle Times set. Moon I know much less about, and I know the Urbanist just endorsed her.

    1. I appreciate this endorsement because it was thoughtfully developed and explained. I haven’t decided who gets my vote, but Farrell is one of a small set I am considering.

      I think there is a myopic focus by some in the transit advocacy community to get really heated about the MVET vote. This was a correction to an incorrect valuation table. A flawed valuation / depreciation schedule was one of the factors that led to the success of I-695 back in the day. When families sat around the coffee table and did the math, they were shocked to see how overly high the government was valuing their vehicles at. Transit is very important, but not so important that we need to use disingenuous methods to raise revenue.

      1. I can no longer vote in Seattle city elections, having been displaced to Burien 4 years ago, but I share Steve’s concern. And if I lived 2 miles further north, I would have serious concerns about voting for Farrell.

        It’s not so much the MVET vote itself, but what it represents. An unnecessary party-line vote to hurt Seattle’s interests in order to secure suburban political gains.
        This vote implies that Farrell is yet another State Party Democrat, sent up from Olympia to protect Seattle from itself. Just like Murray. Just like Hasegawa.

        She might be a solid candidate on transit, but she has to prove her political independence, and that her allegiances truly lie with Seattle voters, not with the state party.

      2. disingenuous methods

        Again, this is a lie. ST had a) been completely upfront about this valuation method, and b) had used it for the smaller ST II MVET for nearly a decade without some sort of popular uprising. There was nothing disengenuous here–if you did a scintilla of homework and were paying attention to your previous MVET bills, you knew what you were voting for. This claim is an insult to the voters who were paying attention.

        If we can’t identify a manufactured, cynical, astroturfed “tax revolt” when faced with one, we’re not going to be able to govern successfully.

    2. I expect the contrarian defense will look something like this.

      “If we (transit-supporting Democrats in the House) don’t come up with some degree of MVET tax relief, some of our less transit-supporting Democratic colleagues will join with Republicans and the Senate to do something much worse. But if we come up with a more modest MVET cut and convince them to support that instead, at worst it’s harm reduction, and at best the Senate won’t go for it and the whole thing will fizzle out in the mad rush to get a budget when this session finally ends.”

      I, too, was furious at (what looked like) her betrayal of transit investments and her constituents, but if something like this was her calculus, I can forgive it. (And, of course, she obviously can’t come out and say this is what she was up to, so it also explains the obnoxious statements she made in defense of her vote.)

      1. I can understand the logic in needing to pass something.

        I can’t understand why it had to be unanimous. There were enough votes to pass it without Seattle’s delegation. It would have been an excellent time for Seattle representatives to take a principled stand for their districts (especially those planning to run for local office here!).

        Instead they caved and voted with the suburban core of the party, and none of them seem to understand why Seattleites might be angry with them for voting with the party line.

      2. If unanimity was what it took to calm and corral the tax-revolt spooked Democrats, I’m OK with it. I’m also OK with it if it was meant to be a signal to the Senate that you can’t hit transit harder and get the house with a divide and conquer strategy. (I’m in no position to know whether either of those motivations for unanimity obtained.)

      3. I don’t know how that’s a contrarian defense – it seems like a standard defense.

        Regardless, I don’t really buy it. It looks more to me like Farrell, along with other Democratic representatives, seem to have heard some blowback on the MVET, and calculated that there was political risk in upsetting those task-averse constituents and little-to-no political risk in upsetting pro-transit constituents. I’m not sure how to change that calculation going forward if there are no political consequences for that vote.

      4. There’s more to it than that; Rep. Farrell seems to have decided that, rather than cast a pointless protest vote, to trade that vote for the very substantive improvement that park-and-rides take the first hit in the event of a shortfall.

    3. What practical effect will the MVET vote have on a Farrell Administration’s behavior?

      1. None, but that’s the wrong question. The question is what does her MVET vote reveal about her that could have an impact on her administration (perhaps that’s what you’re asking?) And I fear the answer is that she fears (politically speaking) the reflexively anti-transit and anti-urbanist voters more than she fears transit activists. Would she also throw away upzones in single-family neighborhoods at the first sign of pushback?

      2. Steve, I think that would be a legitimate interpretation and concern, if the MVET vote were the sum total of her record. There’s much, much more there that suggests the opposite. The pattern runs the other way. (And plausible charitable interpretations of the MVET vote exist.)

      3. djw, I’m aware of the rest of her record, which is why I say I’d vote for her in a heartbeat if it weren’t for the MVET vote. But the MVET vote is a bigger deal to me than it seems to be to you – coupled with her disastrous defense of it in the ECB interview, it signals an willingness to wilt under pressure when faced with a little pushback. I’m tired of politicians (Ed Murray, eg) who seem to say the right things about density, but then give up on single-family zones because of one Danny Westneat editorial. Would Farrell resist Seattle Times pressure on an urbanist agenda? I’m not so sure.

        I saw Martin’s point above trading the vote for putting park-and-rides first in line for the cutting block, which is fair, but the shortfalls may very well exceed the total cost of all park-and-rides, which may well result in cuts to urban service as well as very-pissed-off suburbs with who-knows-what fallout. Other than that, what are the charitable interpretations of the MVET vote?

  8. I don’t care who you vote for, or who STB endorses, but you have to give MM props for actually reading, commenting, and to STB for making corrections. Props all around guys.

    1. A lot of mayors, councilmembers, and agency staff actually read STB regularly. Dow Constantine mentioned it at some event he spoke at, saying he reads it in the morning and often takes articles to his staff, saying, “This! Can we do this? I want to do something like this.” Unfortunately it takes a lot more convincing and compromise to get something done, as you can see in the discrepency between what STB advocates and what King County does (or the cities do or the transit agencies do). But a large number of officials are reading it, and even though you can’t guarantee they notice every article or comment, there’s a good chance that at least some of them are reading yours.

      I agree that it’s even extra-better when they reply to us, discuss with us, and contribute occasional articles. I think McGinn contributed a light rail article once (probably around the time of the Ballard acceleration), and he has come to multiple meetups and spoken at them. A couple county councilmembers have occasionally commented, and a couple Metro PR people have occasionally stepped in with clarifications. There are ethical and professional limitations to what agency staff and politicians can say, so the lack of replying or commenting doesn’t necessarily mean they have no interest in the topic or no opinion. And for them, transit is only one issue they’re dealing with: they can’t comment in all the forums on all a hundred issues in the city. But we appreciate those that do talk with us occasionally.

    2. For the record: I like and respect Mike McGinn. I think he was a good mayor guilty of, at worst, tactical mistakes. Although the relatively late tax thing made it a bit easier, it was agonizing to choose between the three very good candidates.

      1. Thank you for the vetting, this endorsement and all the rest of STB’s excellent work. I’ve lived in Denver, San Diego and Las Vegas prior to Seattle, and none have anything like it.

  9. Unless the candidate has been a former mayor, they will have a substantial learning curve upon taking office, even if they had prior experience in government. This was even the case for Ed Murray.

    Of course, we actually do have a former mayor running, who will require no time to get up to speed on issues or how to run a city, who has proven he is strong on transit and has the most detailed and sensible plan to accelerate ST3 in our city. That’s why, as much as I like many other candidates in this race, Mike McGinn has my vote.

    1. It couldn’t *possibly* be because you’re a former McGinn staffer? That couldn’t possibly be part of your calculation. [ad hom]

      1. I did indeed work for McGinn, as many know, but I’m not working on his campaign nor have any reason to expect work in a second term. I think people who follow my writings and organizing work know that I put issues and values above personalities, and above personal connections. In this case I think it’s just obvious that from a transit perspective, among others, the candidate with the best ideas and experience is McGinn. Seems open and shut to me.

      2. STB, would appreciate your not bothering with the [AH] above remark deserves. Shortage of square parentheses right now. But it’s also a little disappointing to see so much of this topic’s discussion focused on taxes. Major important: of course.

        But since 27 years ago month after next, the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel has been bleeding as much black ink into the sewers as red. Balance sheet needs third color for money and opportunity wasted out of laziness or pettiness: Feedlot Floor Brown, perfumed per title.

        Meaning hugely both more destructive and preventable with modest effort than mistakes or begotten-ness in tax policy. Bringing me to question to all candidates that by itself should determine fitness to be Mayor of Seattle.

        Given past performance on so much else about DSTT, literally any day now, the DSTT could be permanently closed to all but two bus routes, the 41 and the 550. Or more likely, all of them.
        Mr. of Ms. Mayor, what’ll be your first move? Because I think STB ridership should make its choice on that answer alone.

        So limitless thanks to Seattle Transit Blog for providing this morning’s opportunity. And to you, Mike, for being at your screen and not setting horrific example by pre-dawn Twittering. Somebody tweet the other candidates and get them in here. My bet on best answer still Nikki Oliver, but no rush about it. Will come a time NOBODY will want the job.


    2. There’s a difference between coming from within the system (as Farrell and Murray did) and outside it (as first-term McGinn and Moon did). I think that’s a more potent dividing line in terms of experience.

      I agree, however, that McGinn has the best, most relevant experience. We ended up going with the tax thing as a discriminator, but we’re afraid that his presence is also likely to activate some old animosities and fault lines. A lot of important people hate McGinn, for no good reason. I don’t think anybody hates Farrell.

  10. I’m finding myself somewhat disengaged in Seattle city politics now, for the unfortunate reason that I’m doubting the financial wisdom of continuing to spend the kind of money required to live here. I used to think I would live in Seattle permanently, but in the last year I’ve realized that I’m probably sacrificing my financial future by continuing to stay.

    I don’t buy a Tesla or a Rolex – those are extravagant uses of my money. Unfortunately, the premium I pay for living in Seattle is probably equivalent to buying a Rolex every year. That’s getting hard to justify with inflation in other areas and basically flat salaries.

    1. From direct recent experience, Alex, a couple suggestions. One, do some on-site investigations of where else you plan to live. I lucked out only because I’d visited Olympia so many times before, and always liked it.

      But serious caution. When I got here beginning of 2014, best thing about it was an easy, pleasant two hour bus ride, or one hour bus and one hour Sounder, to Seattle. Less commute time than some places in Seattle itself.

      Now, I-5 is either an impound lot or a detention center, depending how long you’re trapped in your car. Lockdowns without warning common. Moving traffic, might want to get horn that sounds like a bored cow. You’ll likely have a choice, though. Find a network of back roads.

      If you hate jammed traffic like I do, maybe you can find a route pretty enough to enjoy trading three hours driving for third that time stuck. Much depends on where and for whom you work. So first visit to new possibility, check out work available closer to new home.

      So might save you more long-run money, and quality of life, to stay in Seattle and re-engage the Hell out of Seattle politics. One thing certain: You’ll have a lot more constituents than you. Like I said, when the 2008 sequel, which could outsuck the whole Star Wars series, by a light year, arrives, you’ll be the only candidate for any city office.



    2. If you can get a well-paid job or income while living in one of the cheap parts of the country with tolerable politics (upstate NY, perhaps), go for it.

      The thing is, most people can’t. The places with the high-paid jobs are typically the places with unaffordable housing, including pretty much the whole West Coast and much of the Northeast Corridor.

      But if you somehow get a high-paid job in Detroit, yes, you’re going to end up a lot richer than if you get a high-paid job in Seattle.

  11. I agree completely with this editorial, and went through the same sort of process of elimination with the candidates. Unlike the board, I think I can write more freely.

    Hasegawa — [ah]. I could talk for hours about the weaknesses of Sound Transit, but I sure wouldn’t lash out — then backtrack — the way that Hasegawa has. Yet that is just one example of the candidate’s loony statements.

    Oliver — Doesn’t seem qualified. To be the mayor without any political experience, you have to have an extraordinary understanding of the issues; she doesn’t.

    Durkan — I have not at all been impressed with her positions on anything. She seems very much like a caretaker mayor, yet she is no more experienced than her opponents (quite the contrary). More to the point, I think now is not the time for a caretaker. We are facing extraordinary growth, the way that very few cities have, and with growth come some very big problems. From a zoning standpoint, the current “go along, get along” urban village concept would be fine if not for that growth. We need bold action, and she seems afraid to take a bold stance (on just about anything).

    McGinn — I would be OK with him being mayor, but I wasn’t that impressed with what he did last time. The streetcar is a stupid idea, and my guess he is unwilling to admit to its stupidity if he gets reelected. More importantly, I was very unimpressed with his statements about housing. The HALA committee was made up a diverse set of local leaders — that wasn’t the problem. They came to a compromise after arguing for a very long time. That again, wasn’t the problem. The problem was that the mayor immediately ignored one of their key suggestions. Why does McGinn think a different committee would do anything differently? There are a lot of us (myself included) who think the proposal didn’t go far enough. We would like to see the entire city allow apartments, not just ADUs. Low rise is fine (no bigger than a house) but simply allow more people (which means a lot of big houses would be converted to apartments). While we are at it, allow subdivisions so more people can own a house (5000 or 9600 is way too big for a lot). At the same time, there are those who simply want no change at all (encase the city in amber, as they say). Put the folks together and the only compromise that they could conceivably come up with is exactly what the HALA group did (allow more ADUs). I have no doubt that McGinn would do a better job than our current mayor (and do a better job than Durkan) but I think we can do better.

    Moon — She does have an extraordinary grasp of the issues. I would vote for her, despite her lack of experience. But at the end of the day, if you can have both — if you can have someone who understands our unusual situation (and has plans for dealing with it) and has solid political experience, you might as well vote for her.

    Farrell — Not only do I agree with her position on the issues, but she has also been a very responsive representative (she represented me in the state legislator). She responded quickly and thoughtfully to my ideas and that means a lot to me. Add it all up, and my vote goes for Farrell.

    1. RossB, you articulated better than I had previously been able to why I’ve felt so unenthusiastic about Durkan. Thanks.

      1. My sense is that Durkan is gambling on her endorsements, “front-runner” aura, and $$ advantage to get her through the primary without having to tie herself down to too many specific positions. But since she doesn’t know who she’ll be facing in round II, this gives her the flexibility to craft her general election campaign positions to best position her against whomever she’s running against.

        This might turn out to be canny politics on her part, but it makes me less likely to support her.

  12. Good call guys. When Jessyn jumped in, I decided to board the “Jessyn Train”. To me, it’s about who’s going to deliver not just talk a good talk. When you’re Mayor and on the Sound Transit Board almost if not by default you have to have a track record.

    One 2015 legislative deal that still gives me consternation on principle but will likely be undone to address the car tab depreciation crisis now that the architect is gone does not undo a track record of delivering transit, of delivering paid family leave, of calm governance. It cannot.

    Oh and one last thing, we all know whom this blog endorses very likely wins. I’ve had that joyful experience a few times for good friends – see Jennifer Gregerson & Comm Trans Prop 1 & Jill Johnson & ST3 – so now it’s time to board the #JessynTrain.

    1. Oh and one last thing, we all know whom this blog endorses very likely wins.

      Scholarly research by political scientists on the impact of newspaper endorsements shows they have effectively no influence, or if they do it’s very very small. This is a very impressive blog, but I sincerely doubt their influence is orders of magnitude greater than those of newspapers with much greater readership.

      1. Oof. Our record is atrocious.

        2009 Primary: Nickels. General: McGinn
        2013: McGinn in both

      2. Martin,

        You’ve done really good since 2014… you got this. Now I do NOT want to go off-topic but compliment you and your colleagues when I say one of the reasons why I want transit boards elected is so that we have transit board members endorsed by Seattle Transit Blog. I want passion and intensity in transit, ok?



      3. I think this is a race where endorsements (of various types) could easily change the outcome. Unlike the last two elections, there are a ton of qualified people running, and voters are likely to split the vote. What makes this race especially strange is that there is no incumbent, nor anyone from the city council running. McGinn used to hold the office, but he lost. Even weirder, he isn’t considered the “establishment candidate”; Durkan is.

        This means that a lot of voters will have trouble choosing a candidate, for fear or splitting the vote. If The Stranger endorses Farrell, she will likely make it to the general election. The Stranger is probably the most important newspaper in the city as far as endorsements go. Lots more people read the Seattle Times, but many consider their editorial staff to be completely out of touch. It is hard to imagine Sawant holding office, for example, if she didn’t get the endorsement of The Stranger. The endorsement of Conlin by the Seattle Times (as well as incumbency) didn’t help him.

        My guess is that blogs like this have a lot less influence, but are still significant, especially if backed up by other publications .(That is why I mentioned Farrell in my example).

        It may also be possible that this blog influences The Stranger.

        I would say that McGinn could really use an endorsement from The Stranger to stay viable. Lack of establishment support (from one faction or another) along with losing before is really bad for an incumbent, and a lot of people will be scurrying to find an alternative.

      4. I think it’ll be Durkan vs. Farrell in the General.

        Big elite money and [ot] versus work ethic, a track record of delivering and starring roles in transit victories.

        Sad, because Jenny Durkan would be a HEAVEN of a City Attorney! [ot]

      5. I can’t really blame the lawyers for doing what they are supposed to do for their clients. Durkan did not steal the gubernatorial election. Someone involved with administering the election did. I agree with you that the evidence was pretty clear more people voted for Rossi than for Gregoire. Regardless of who did it, the County Director of Elections and the County Executive were complicit in the cover-up. The Executive went to great lengths to find the director another job in another state.

      6. Seattle now has a string of one-term mayors, and two incumbants excluded in the primary (isn’t that how McGinn was excluded?; I don’t remember for sure), and now a third excluded before the primary. That’s troubling because all of them were good enough for a second term I thought so we’re throwing quality away. So that’s one factor. Another is a case of a primary with no incumbent, and twenty-one people trying their opportunity. We saw that last year, in the Republican presidential primary. The candidates are quite different, but the number and the lack of an overwhelming frontrunner suggest that the vote will be split widely, and thus that a few percent can make a difference to anyone. I could see the top three people each getting 20-30%, or the top five people each getting 10-20%. So a few percent could change the frontrunners. That suggests that endorsements could have a larger than usual impact. However, I’m not sure what that should imply strategically.

      7. #1. Thank you Brent, I agree with the mods we need to move along…

        #2. That said, that said I have rock-solid confidence in this blog’s ability to deliver election victories.

        #3. Again, Jenny Durkan would be a HEAVEN of a City Attorney! Why she didn’t run for that position is beyond me… it’d be a good place to leap into a US Attorney General spot in 2021 or G*d forbid 2025.

      8. I’m guessing The Stranger endorses Moon. She wrote those articles about the increase in housing prices being due to speculation with Charles Mudede, which seems to be a big Stranger hobby-horse lately. Whether that is enough to get Moon over the top (I’m taking it as a given that Durkan will be a top-two finisher, despite the fact her campaign so far isn’t about anything) is unclear.

      9. Mike: these 22-candidate primaries… it’s time for Seattle to use approval voting. See my comment below. Advocate for it. Fix the underlying problem.

  13. I think Mcginn would also be a good choice. He has a good record on transit. It’s a little unfair to nail him for keeping property taxes down when he’s proposed a head tax to raise revenue. (Though I’m not necessarily a big fan of a head tax, all our forms of taxation have drawbacks)

    That said, I think it’s important to not split the pro transit vote. We could easily get into a situation where the last round of voting is between Durkan and Hasegawa.

    Farrell and Mcginn seem like both strong candidates right now and I’d like to hear more policy detals from both of them. In some ways this election feels a little rushed… maybe because Murray bowed out at the last minite.

      1. That system (“instant runoff voting”) doesn’t actually prevent the spoiler problem, and it doesn’t actually prevent the vote splitting problem. There’s a lot of mathematical papers about this: the Center For Election Sciences has some information about it. We also have real-world experience from Australia.

        What would prevent the vote splitting problem is approval voting, which is also dirt simple. Vote up or down on each candidate (“acceptable” or “not acceptable”), and the candidate who gets the most thumbs up wins.

  14. I’ve been discouraged about the lack of opportunity to chat with the candidates. It’s hard to assess a person’s leadership and listening skills in addition to finding out where their policies might be.

    My major interest is having a candidate that improves the notification and feedback process with city departments so that I’m not having to find the dozens of unlinked web pages to find out what’s going on. Frankly, the STB is the best place I can find any transit-related items on the table — which speaks more to the inadequacy of agencies informing the public than the talents of the passionate citizens updating this site. Of course, non-transit items are not generally announced on this blog. That doesn’t even include the many public meetings that go on without few knowing about it.

    With technology being easier than ever, there is no excuse for allowing city departments to continue to operate within their secret fiefdoms, created to provide a public participation cover yet done with an intent to stay out of public scrutiny. Will a candidate make them change? Without change, any substantive topic can’t be vetted.

    1. At one of the transit open houses in a discussion with staff, they asked us if we had any ideas how to reach more people. I didn’t know. I used to run a users’ group and we had the same problem: how do you let people know you exist if they don’t see your signs or your websites? The only other alternative seems to be direct mail or calling, and we weren’t willing to do that. But an agency can do direct mailing for an open house, Although if all of them do it then it would be a deluge of announcements. If a mayor has any other ideas, then those would be welcome.

  15. The truth is that I’m tired of politicians thinking that we can just forever add a tenth or a full point to the sales tax to do whatever they want to. It’s a risk, but if you want to do something you’re going to have to have some sort of income tax at the state/county/city level. To believe that you can forever tap sales tax (a very regressive tax) will at some point make the populace say not only no, but hell no.

    1. It’s not for whatever the politicians want, it’s for what the public needs. All these taxes are for basic services: housing, transit, healthcare, parks, schools, libraries, fixing the seawall. In a more sane environment like Canada or Europe these would just be automatically funded and in a more progressive manner. But we have only regressive tax tools available, and we have to vote on every one (because of earlier initiatives). Most states have income tax as well as the other two, so people’s total tax burden is a third higher or more. We should try for an income tax or wealth tax, but it will take a long time if ever to convince the majority of the legislature. We can’t just do nothing until that succeeds someday.

      1. Property tax is a partial wealth tax. We’re halfway there if we can get our heads around the concept that property tax is not regressive.

  16. I think Durkan is a shoe-in for the general (she has Murray’s endorsement after all). It will be interesting if Farrell gets the other spot– this blog’s endorsement does help. Just out of curiosity, has anyone from the Durkan camp reached out to you to give her more detail on transit?

  17. Bad choice, poorly reasoned. Farrell has a nice delivery on the stump and superficial appeal. And the glitz of the TCC brand. But not near the chops necessary to be a good leader. If fact, she’d make things harder, not easier.

    Consider: she’s the reason half a billion got skimmed off ST3 authority BEFORE the big property tax hit on Seattle to pay for the rest of the state’s schools. (She abandoned her post to let that latter got happen, opting to seek higher office rather than protect her city’s interests at the peak of action in Oly.) That half billion was cash flow ST could’ve leveraged into another billion in regional bonding capacity to speed up LRT. Worse, she bought into the republicans’ MVET hysteria and actually supported a bill to strip ST of a billion in new revenues, despite the fact that her district had just. voted. overwhelmingly. for. those transit taxes. She’s part of the cabal that stuck ST with all the responsibility for curing affordable housing — which will make TOD harder not easier — without really asking the office of housing whether that might be a good idea.

    Farrell is a mile wide and less than an inch deep. A follower. What seattle needs is a serious executive with the gravitas to leverage city bureaucracy to make LRT expansion happen faster and more effectively. That’s hard, dirty work in the trenches and she ain’t that. We need someone who’s been there before and willing to stick up for the city’s interests in the hard, day to day work of governing. That means either McGinn or Durkan from where I sit.

    1. “she’s the reason half a billion got skimmed off ST3 authority”

      I don’t know why this myth keeps getting recycled. It’s been explained enough times. The sales tax deal was to backfill a raid from the Connecting Washington Highway program on the general fund, and not at all Farrell’s doing.

      Jessyn Farrell’s contribution was to ensure that the money at least stayed local. The Puget Sound Accountability fund kept the money within the three counties, rather than being dispersed statewide.

      1. “What does half a billion dollars in education money have to do with public transportation?

        “Not much, but it has a lot to do with politics, the art of compromise and a late-night maneuver by Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, to help pass a new statewide transportation package last summer.

        “”It could truly help fill some gaps for some really vulnerable students if we do this wisely,” Farrell said.”

        If you say so, Dan.

      2. It was to continue the sales-tax-free subsidy to highways. All other sales except food generate tax revenue for the general fund. But gasoline is exempt from sales tax and instead has a gas tax dedicated for highways and ferries. But that wasn’t enough for the legislature, they wanted to make the materials highway-makers purchase exempt from sales tax too. So they did it without adversely affecting schools (the recipients of the money) by taking the money out of Sound Transit. Because light rail should subsidize highways I guess. Farrell then rededicated the money to Puget Sound schools rather than just any schools. So smile, your ST taxes are paying for education.

    2. Railcan;

      Saw your comments this morning and wanted to give a thoughtful response. So please bear with me.

      I, like you, am still wrankled at the 2015 transportation package deal. To me, it’s the principle of taking transit money – all voter-approved – and giving it to public education which seemingly can never have enough cash. I also wanted the highway expansion part of the gas tax put to voters.

      But what is done is done. I forgive Jessyn Farrell and would like to make a face-to-face apology – not behind a cowardly keyboard – for some of the more callous 2015 remarks I made. I can’t forgive however the grassroots STB commentators who didn’t primary her or demand better sausage-making or who continue to stymie efforts to make transit agencies more responsive to public input. It is OUR role here in the STB comments to be the rabid GO-TRANSIT-GO base with occasional tough love. We need to be there for our hero transit maintaners, transit operators and obviously the backroom staff and our STB bloggers!

      Also Jessyn in my mind represents the silent majority of Seattle voters. The voters fed up with housing unaffordability and no action on the Sonics and the cop-bashing of some radicals and the lag time on ST3 and other middle class issues. I would rather have Mayor Jessyn Farrell than either an elitist who is even MORE out of touch (and there are several running) or a radical who will grease the rails for a Republican blowback or one of the two blatantly anti-Sound Transit candidates (Hasegawa and Tsimerman). After the past seven months, I’m not too sure you want the pendulum to swing radically guys… I want a Mayor Coffee instead. Especially as Mayor Badassuchi or Mayor Constantine or even a Mayor Rogoff isn’t on the menu…

      So with that, I’m still on the Jessyn Train. I’m pragmatic. I have to be out here. I would highly encourage fellow transit advocates to have principled pragmatism but have some fun too out on the ranges passing out love and support and… board the #JessynTrain.



      1. All good Joe.

        My beef is with the STB ed board. I don’t think they dug very deep. The previous ST sales tax was not subject to the holdback. It was a ransom, made by poor negotiators. The Rs wanted to use ST all they way along to get their gas tax funded. The Ds cut a lousy deal that hurt the region and then put lipstick on it.

        They bought the hype of a former TCC head. The logic of that is obvious. And also superficial. What I see is a self promoting climber, someone who’s shown no sign of the kind of toughness that will be needed to insert massive public infrastructure into a dense urban core. She quit mid-session to get out from under the fundraising ban, for crying out loud! What does that say about dedication to the responsibility she took on? If this blog is about finding the surest path to transit success, they need to look deeper, probe more aggressively. I hope they will in the general.

      2. “She quit mid-session to get out from under the fundraising ban, for crying out loud!”

        A Seattle mayor’s race without an incumbent is a rare thing. Nobody predicted this opening would occur now. You either take it now or you might not get another chance. I don’t know why Seattle mayorhood is so hot when you’d think being a legislator is a higher office with more power, but Murray did it and others want to too. The question is not so much that she jumped ship for this opportunity, but whether she jumps ship for every little thing.

      3. >> I don’t know why Seattle mayorhood is so hot when you’d think being a legislator is a higher office with more power, but Murray did it and others want to too.

        State reps make about 40 grand a year, and have to commute down to Olympia a lot. The mayor makes $175,000 a year. A city council member is also well paid, at close to $120,000 a year. It really is a different job. If you work in city politics, you are expected to work full time, while if you work in the legislature, you aren’t.

  18. And this transit blog is of course completelyl unbiased – why would they endorse a former head of Transportation Choices Coalition. This blog is completely against any single family zoning. If it were up to you we would have a city full of tall buildings with no parking and no developer fees for infrastructure. Property taxes and utility costs would continually be increased in order to pay for the missing infrastructure improvements that are caused when huge amounts of large buildings are built that require more water supply, more sewer supply, more transportation and parking for people to be able to get to work. Our parkland would be over used and with Seattle’s poor management, would be undermaintained. Urbanists need to listen to the people they call “NIMBY’s” or all our cities will become unlivable.

    1. The cities are 100% unlivable when people can’t find a place to live in them. Your starting point is existing residents, and specifically those who are well enough off to withstand the pressures that are driving lower-income people out of the city. My starting point is everybody: let’s build enough housing for everybody, enough to stop this hyper-competition for units that’s driving prices up.

      When we’ve done that I assume there will still be a lot of single-family houses left, like there are sprinkled around Chicago’s North Side, a city that doesn’t have this severe price-escalation problem because the city allows enough deveopment to meet the population’s needs and doesn’t try to quarantine multifamily housing to small areas. I also expect single-family houses to predominate on the edges, outside the last urban village. I don’t think the housing market is that big to swallow the entire city — we have twice the space as San Francisco and half the regional population.

      Not a city of no parking and no developer fees. A city with enough parkingless units for those who don’t want a car. The number of parkingless units is small; the number of people who want parkingless units is greater than that; so there’s an imbalance. And I’m not opposed to linkage fees. I’m just opposed to soaking developers and rhetoric that it’s all their fault.

      Overused parkland is a minor problem compared to people not able to live in walkable neighborhoods when they really want to. We could make more walkable neighborhoods, and we really should, but that requires modifying single-family areas because they’re the only space left and they’re 3/4 of the city’s residential land. As for poor city management, what in particular? I love how the city redesigned Cal Anderson Park and some others. Several new pocket parks have opened. I don’t like the concrete-and-flimsy-lawn-chair design Lake Union Park, Northgate Park, and others, but at least they exist and we can improve them later.

    2. Does your definition of “livability” include being able to walk to a grocery store?

    3. I think by “unbiased” sylmar means fair and considering all the factors. Urbanists would like to work with single-family residents on a win-win solution. But we need somebody on the other side willing to propose something beyond “No growth” or “Only a couple stories in the existing urban villages.” We need a solution that works for everybody: all inhabitants of Seattle and those who want to live within the city limits. And those who want to live in walkable mixed-use environments like southwest Capitol Hill.

      Between the “No change” and “Abolish single-family zones” positions there’s a lot of room for alternatives. Is it possible, O single-family homeowner, to come up with something that preserves your house without having to preserve 100% of the houses everywhere? Could you please look at Chicago’s North Side, Vancouver’s Kitsilano, etc, and see that it’s not a horror show, and that there are many variations that could allow more units while still keeping a neigborhood feel. Can we please close the loophole that allows McMansions but not row houses? Can we put a tax or fee on McMansion-sized construction? Can we talk about a few specific things that are your highest priority, rather than “No change”?

      It’s not the 1970s anymore when all middle-class people could buy a Seattle house. Single-family homeowners are a shrinking percentage of the population, and thus becoming a wealthy elite or aristocracy. Even if they aren’t yet they will be in a few decades. It’s unfair to define “livability” as “comfortable for the aristocracy” — it has to be comfortable for everybody

      1. Personally I’m in favor of “abolish single family zoning”….

        ….’cause the fact is you’ll still have a lot of single-family houses mixed in, even if *all* the zoning allows duplexes and triplexes. This is the experience in places which allow that. Seriously, people living in single-family houses don’t even notice when their neighbor’s house turns out to be a duplex. They’re very innocuous; the neighborhood character stays exactly the same.

        This isn’t sufficient — you’ll still need to allow apartment buildings in some places — but it’s a good start.

    4. There is no shortage of room in the designated urban villages currently not used (sometimes even zoned) for its highest/best use. Think of the vast swathes of car lots in Lake City; parking lots galore in Bitter Lake, Rainier, Aurora, etc. The likelihood that more than a handful of single family properties that will be removed save possibly on the fringes of those areas is remote at best even at full build-out. I have two residential properties in NE Seattle that will never – in my lifetime, anyway – be zoned anything other than SFH; I’d love to build affordable units there but it’s just not going to happen…which is fine because we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of existing land in areas designated for growth. Lake City and Bitter Lake are perfect examples of this – unless the ghost of Bill Pierre has a ghost house on one of his car lots, there are few to no SFH in areas that could easily be developed in the Lake City urban area. This area is predominantly parking and single-level (strip mall) commercial developments with a decent amount of multi-family housing, much of which has been there since the 60s. Some larger developments have occurred on the fringes in the past 10 years, but there is plenty of room for more. If Link had come to Lake City, it would be well underway by now. Improve transit infrastructure in that neighborhood and people will be clamoring to live there, in homes that do not deplete the stock of SFH in Meadowbrook, Maple Leaf, or Wedgwood. For all intents and purposes, those types of neighborhoods will remain single family for a long, long time to come. We have available places in most areas of the city that can be upzoned for more housing without this weird idea that someone is going to bulldoze Laurelhurst or Phinney Ridge and put up 20-story towers there.

      1. Why haven’t those lots been redeveloped? In Lake City’s case, the predominant owner has talked about multistory car dealerships with housing on top, so I think they’re just waiting for the HALA rezone to go through. In Aurora’s case, the predominant owner likes the 1960s-era buildings and doesn’t want to change them — they advertise them to businesses as a place with inexpensive storefronts with plenty of free parking. Said owner resisted transit/BAT lanes on Aurora because it would replace street parking, which is why Shoreline has complete full-time BAT lanes and Seattle has only a few blocks peak-direction.

        This is why we need to upzone a larger area. Because zoning doesn’t force redevelopment, it merely allows it. If the owner refuses then nothing happens. So we need to upzone a larger area so that even if these owners refuse, other owners elsewhere won’t. We don’t know which owners will be willing to redevelop, and they probably won’t be all together in one place. So we need to upzone a large area so that a large enough number of owners somewhere will be willing to redevelop voluntarily.

      2. What Mike Orr said. I don’t think anyone’s proposed PROHIBITING single-family housing or low-rise development… I’m not even sure how you would enforce that. (“You can’t buy this house until you find someone else to rent the other apartment”, perhaps?)

        Zoning typically sets maximums. If you’ve done zoning even half-sensibly, most of the zoning won’t be “fully built out”. (Single family districts will have vacant lots, duplex districts will have single family homes, apartment districts will have duplexes, etc.)

        If it is fully built out (as in most of the “single-family” areas in Seattle), you screwed up bigtime and you should have zoned it for more density.

  19. While I realize the STB only endorses on transit issues, the fact that Farrell puts “bring the sonics back’ as the very first issue, and then implies we should use public funds to build a SODO arena, really skeeves me out. Spending hundreds of millions to build an arena for a private, for-profit organization is so explicitly terrible that I don’t see how any self-identified “progressive” candidate can support it.

    1. Probably because the “progressive” candidate understands the current SODO arena proposal involves no public tax financing? From their site:

      “The SoDo Arena is 100% privately financed. The risks to the City from the SoDo Arena are minimal and far less than those embedded in both the SP and OVG proposals. The SoDo Arena ownership group has already invested over $100 million in land and entitlement costs, and has committed to privately fund all future entitlements, construction (and any overruns), maintenance, operations and capital improvements for the Arena.”

      1. Thanks, Ron. Some folks seem to get all their info on this from the Seattle Times and the Port. The NHL will be here yesterday no matter where the arena is built – they blocked Quebec City from the expansion process specifically to allow Seattle a chance to get its crap together.

      2. @Scott Stidell: nice change of subject.

        The real prize is an NBA franchise [does anyone really believe that an NHL franchise is any better than the WNBA and MLS franchises we already have?]

      3. @William, Yes? Nationally, hockey is a much bigger sport than soccer. I don’t believe there is a single market that has both MLS and NHL where soccer is the bigger sport in terms of revenue & media attention. The rivalry with Vancouver would be excellent.

        WNBA is on par with a D-1 basketball team. What would the city be more excited about, a WNBA championship or either UW or Seattle U making the Final Four? I’d strongly wager the latter.

        Finally, Seattle is missing a winter sport – either hockey or basketball slides in nicely after football season and before baseball really gets going.

    2. Where has she implied that public funds should be used? She simply supports Hansen’s proposal, which is 100% privately financed.

      1. Why would anyone who wants the Sonics back support Chris Hansen? The NBA made it abundantly clear that they will never let him have a team in Seattle after he bankrolled the anti-arena forces in Sacramento. It’s time to move on.

    3. I am getting tired of having taxpayer money thrown into analyzing proposals for arenas when neither the NBA nor NHL have expressed interest in having franchises here.

      The SODO property remains more useful for port purposes. If it isn’t useful for port purposes, than it would be more useful for TOD purposes.

      Hansen is blacklisted for life from ever owning an NBA franchise, so I share the annoyance that we are even spending public money analyzing his proposals. I don’t need to show that the blacklist exists. Hansen needs to show evidence that the NBA would give his proposal the time of day, just like the other would-be franchise owners.

  20. The more I hear about what the candidates for Mayor of Seattle the more I am glad I live in Des Moines.

  21. Y’all in Seattle need to switch to using *approval voting*. This would eliminate the spoiler and vote-splitting effect.

    This is how it works: everyone votes thumbs up or thumbs down on each candidate. The candidate with the most thumbs up wins. This guarantees that the candidate who is acceptable to the largest number of people wins.

    This would have solved the mess of the Alaskan Way Viaduct referenda, making it absolutely clear which option was most popular.

    And it would deal with the conflict which many of you are facing right now, not knowing whether to vote for Cary Moon or Jessyn Farrell, and fearing that some other candidate will get in if you don’t all vote the same way.

    Seattle needs this reform.

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