Do You know Your City Council Candidates?
Feel free to scan our cheat sheet at election time but, before then, please read our rationale for endorsing some candidates and warning you away from others.
Why This Election Matters
Seattle has exceeded it’s regional growth obligations in a density strategy intended to curb sprawl and get people out of their cars. With several lowrise neighborhoods (including Ballard) already grossly exceeding 2024 growth targets (and with no concurrent infrastructure and service expansion) residents are fed up with city leaders who justify clearing away community assets like exceptional trees, green space, architectural history, or all single family zoning in order to make room for more people.
While surpassing its growth targets, Seattle also has a 2 billion dollar backlog of road, bridge, sidewalk, bus service, and other infrastructure needs. We are the only Washington city of remotely similar size that does not charge developers with impact fees. These fees are used in Yakima, Edmonds, Everett, Bellevue, Spokane, Kirkland etc. to finance transportation and other infrastructure associated with new development. In Seattle taxpayers foot the bill with layer upon layer of regressive fees, levies, and added taxes that hurt working class people. We are paying for the loss of our city’s livability while the development community benefits.
Worst of all, this growth boom has actually pushed rents up at record rates. In fact, those neighborhoods with the most new units added have had the largest rent increases. Because Seattle’s density implementation is free-market driven, the promise of concurrent affordable housing exists only in the dominant developer myth. Density per se does not lower housing costs. Although commonly held economic beliefs would dictate that more housing leads to greater affordability, this is a gross oversimplification. If this were true, New York City and Hong Kong would be the cheapest cities in the world, which they are not. There is insufficient protection against these dramatic residential rate hikes and as a result homelessness has soared and waiting lists for subsidized housing are now years long. Thousands of longtime residents, low income and working people, seniors, and people of color are being gentrified out of their homes and out of the city.
Of course, other less destructive growth models are possible but they will not evolve while developer money influences mayoral and city council choices. We need to get big cash out of political campaigns so that people without deep pockets, and the concomitant deep obligations to monied special interests, can represent us.
*Why we advise you against voting for some candidates
A single political consultant represents five clients in these races, (including several incumbents with voting records demonstrating greater allegiance to developer lobbyists than residents). Though on the surface these candidates seem diverse, all five mayoral-aligned candidates and their staff appear to be acting as a single coordinated team in their campaigning. In fact, they are often collectively referred to as “The Sinderman Syndicate” after the Northwest Passage Consulting founder running their campaigns. Livable Ballard believes this sort of tight-knit and united entity runs counter the public interest, which (demonstrated by support for District Elections) is in increased checks and balances and greater accountability to constituents over monied special interests.
“Political consultant Christian Sinderman, who works closely with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, has five clients leading their council races: Bruce Harrell in District 2, Rob Johnson in District 4, Sally Bagshaw in District 7, Burgess in Position 8 and Lorena Gonzalez in Position 9. Sinderman’s other two council clients, Banks in District 3 and Sandy Brown in District 5, are running second in their races.” —Seattle Times
Livable Ballard Cheat Sheet
In this first round of district elections, we hope neighborhood accountability will trump the power of incumbency or big money-backed candidacy. Voting for these candidates will go a long way toward getting Seattle back on track.
Position 8 (city-wide)
Position 9 (city-wide)
Ballard Ballot Voting Guide
City-wide Position 9
Bill Bradburd over Lorena Gonzalez*
Ms. Gonzalez was Mayor Murray’s lawyer before resigning to run for city council and would likely align herself with the Mayor, including his apparent Growth Above All agenda. The impact rampant growth currently has had on flagging infrastructure and services, rent prices (resulting in displacement of low and middle income populations), and loss of cultural diversity cannot be understated and yet she has expressed support for Mayor Murray’s HALA recommendations, which add more under-regulated growth.
In contrast, Gonzalez’s opponent, Bill Bradburd, is a long-standing neighborhood activist who thinks that growth should work for all of us, not just the development industry. At the Sept 17 forum, he proved that he’s a very sharp “civics geek” who understands the nuts and bolts of government and would hit the ground running in the new Council.
City-wide Position 8
Jon Grant over Tim Burgess*
As Council President Mr. Burgess voting record indicates ongoing support for under-regulated growth in our City. He endorsed Mayor Murray’s “Grand Bargain” with developers that, if implemented, will immediately give them more project leeway (including greater height) in return for limited and belatedly phased in linkage fees. Ask him why he keeps voting in favor of the development lobby while ignoring neighborhood concerns.
Conversely, Jon Grant, former director of the Tenants Union, is motivated by housing justice. He knows housing policy; at the Sept 17 forum, he explained his alternative to the Grand Bargain, which includes imposing linkage fees immediately on ALL development (residential as well as commercial) with no giveaways to developers.
Catherine Weatbrook over Mike O’Brien*
O’Brien is chair of Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee and thus is responsible for many of the development decisions that have negatively impacted our neighborhood’s quality of life; he negotiated the Grand Bargain (a raw deal for neighborhoods) with the developers. Ask him how he can continue to support the developer-written HALA recommendations and completely disregard how growth without infrastructure has impacted Ballard.
Catherine Weatbrook is a community leader who believes that growth should pay for growth. She’s committed to creation of affordable housing and improved transportation and supports Grant’s alternative to the Grand Bargain (above) and believes impact fees are long overdue.
City-Wide Voting Guide
District 1: West Seattle
Lisa Herbold stands head and shoulders above Shannon Braddock. As an aide to retiring Nick Licata, our city’s most pro-neighborhood City Councilmember, she has years of experience advocating for neighborhoods, under-serviced communities, and small businesses. We’re not exaggerating when we say no one inside City Hall knows more about housing and tenant issues.
District 2: Southeast Seattle
We like Tammy Morales over incumbent, Bruce Harrell*. [More to come. Check back with us.]
District 3: Central Seattle
The choice is clear: Kshama Sawant. While we appreciate that she’s often “outside city hall” rallying the masses for workers’ rights and rent control, we look forward to her spending more time “inside city hall” doing the daily work of drafting legislation and mustering votes among colleagues for laws that rein in under-regulated, developer-led growth. We believe she represents a better option than mayor-aligned Pamala Banks*.
District 4: Northeast Seattle
We’ve not met with Michael Maddux personally but our sources tell us he’s definitely a better alternative to Rob Johnson* who, put simply, is bad news from a neighborhood perspective and from the perspective of housing advocates. Those of us seeking to preserve the character of our communities while minimizing displacement need to vote for Maddux.
District 5: North Seattle
We like Debora Juarez over well-funded, corporate-backed Sandy Brown*. [More to come. Check back with us.]
District 6: Northwest Seattle
Catherine Weatbrook is a community leader who, through the Ballard District Council, has experience advocating for community parks, improved transportation, and affordable housing. While we wish Catherine were a more vocal advocate for legislative land use reform, she is certainly a better choice than current City Councilmember, Michael O’Brien* or, as we like to call him, Mike O’Bulldozer, for his blocking of CM Rasmussen’s amendments (which would have corrected the unintended consequences of the 2010 land use code changes). His popularity in Ballard and other parts of this district is at rock-bottom. He’s alienated residents by supporting just about every upzoning and developer giveaway to come along.
District 7: QA/Downtown
Anyone but Sally Bagshaw*. Incumbent City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw* has consistently backed corporate interests and taxpayer giveaways to big business. Beneath her warm and amiable facade, she appears anti-tenant and anti-neighborhood. Vote Deborah Zech-Artis in this race.
Position 8 (at-large):
Current City Councilmember Tim Burgess* personifies the status quo at City Hall. There is a worthy challenger committed to overcoming inequality in our city who could defeat him: Jonathan Grant. Grant, as former director of the Tenants Union, knows housing policy and understands the threat to affordability that accompanies wide-spread demolition of economical homes and apartments.
Position 9 (at-large):
For the other at-large seat, we strongly recommend Bill Bradburd over his opponent, mayor Murray’s lawyer: Lorena Gonzalez*. Mr. Bradburd is head of the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition, a neighborhood think tank that meets monthly to debate and educate around critical matters of growth and development. Ms. Gonzalez was Mayor Murray’s lawyer before resigning to run for city council and would likely align herself with the Mayor, including his apparent Growth Above All agenda. The impact rampant growth currently has had on flagging infrastructure and services, rent prices (resulting in displacement of low and middle income populations), and loss of cultural diversity cannot be understated and yet she has expressed support for Mayor Murray’s HALA recommendations, which add more under-regulated growth. Bradburd, by contrast, said this:
“The question is not whether we will grow, but whether we will take the right actions to address the challenges of our rapidly changing city … That means putting policies into place that make sure our growth works for all of us, not just for the interests of the development industry.“
Open Letter to City Council Members,
Livable Ballard agrees with this editorial from the Seattle Times. We’ve excerpted sections we believe warrant careful attention.
It has been announced that you will be addressing the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Committee recommendations on Monday, July 20 at 2:30, in the first meeting of your Select Committee on Housing Affordability.
The haste with which this Select Committee was formed and meeting was scheduled alarms us. We sincerely hope you will NOT railroad any HALA-related legislation through the Council before District elections this summer and fall.
Development has run rampant in Seattle over the last several years. It’s time to SLOW DOWN and carefully consider the character and implementation of future growth. Furthermore, any new far-reaching legislation based on the HALA report should be considered by the new District-focused Council, not the current one. It’s time to listen to Seattle’s citizens and try to preserve at least some of Seattle’s unique character.
Seattle Times Editorial, July 17, 2015:
SEATTLE Mayor Ed Murray presented the city with a brokered deal to increase affordable housing over the next decade. The deal was cut by a 28-member committee mostly consisting of developers and advocates. Just one neighborhood representative was in the room when the plan was cooked up ….
On the most contentious issue—changing development rules in single-family zones—Murray engages in thick spin. The mayor said Tuesday that 94 percent of those areas won’t be upzoned—or allowed to grow more dense—suggesting no change in housing density. But the HALA report recommends code changes that would, in fact, open lots in single-family neighborhoods citywide to duplexes, triplexes, row houses and town homes. If Murray is actually going to convince the city homeowners to accept this change, he needs to be straight with the facts.
In isolation, many of HALA’s recommendations make sense. Seattle, however, is already spasming with years of blind growth. Development has not been tightly linked to amenities and services needed to make growth palatable. About 6,000 Seattle public-school students are housed in portables today, due to overcrowding. How prepared is the city and its government partners for many, many more people? ….
The council must recognize that it is a lame-duck council. Representatives of the seven new city districts will be seated in January, and will be better positioned to reflect neighborhoods’ perspectives.
The housing crunch in Seattle is a whale of a problem, years in the making. But if city leaders rush a plan unvetted by their constituents, they risk squeezing out the unique character and way of life that make Seattle a place worth living in.
Slow down. And make the case.
“The Table is Now Set and the Developers Will Have a Feast.”
—Councilmember Rasmussen on Mike O’Brien’s (O’Bulldozer’s) successful blocking of 5, neighborhood-friendly, lowrise-reform amendments.
7/6 City Hall Recap
Councilmember Rasmussen prefaced the July 6th full City Council lowrise legislation vote with an outstanding speech, now posted on his blog, which we hope you will read in its entirety. We were impressed by his advocacy on behalf of neighborhoods. Councilmember Rasmussen tried very hard to return the legislation to the DPD proposals of May 2014, which were vetted and confirmed by the Hearing Examiner in fall 2014, and found to have no impact on housing affordability.
Unfortunately, Mike O’Brien weakened those 2014 recommendations with his own version in May 2015. Councilmember O’Brien (the PLUS committee chair) then led an attack on Rasmussen’s bill-strengthening provisions (largely using a disingenuous affordability argument to undermine councilmembers’ support), the result of which was that only 3 of the 8 amendments proposed by Councilmember Rasmussen won PLUS committee approval on June 16th. Livable Ballard hoped that other councilmembers might come forward to reintroduced the missing 5 amendments to the full council but none did. Although Councilmember Rasmussen acknowledges (and we agree) that the 3 amendments, which did pass and were incorporated into the legislation, represent a small improvement of current land use policy, he readily admits that they are grossly insufficient to correct the unintended consequences of the 2010 code changes. Knowing that the other councilmembers would allow the gutted (but marginally improved) bill to pass, he voted “no” in protest.
- Rasmussen strongly criticized CM O’Brien for calling the legislation “clean-up,” saying instead that “the table was set and the developers will have a feast” since the legislation fails to end the incentivized bulldozing of our neighborhoods, destruction of affordable housing, or out-of-scale development.
- He also criticized the Mayor’s HALA (Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda) committee for influencing O’Brien and for declining to include livability factors in their considerations—which, along with affordability and density, were the primary goals with which the advisory group was tasked (just look at the committee name!)
- Furthermore, Rasmussen identified the misleading use of the “NIMBY” label, promoted by the development community, as nothing more than a “tactic to discourage participation and to avoid discussing the issues.”
We hope his admonition to Council for their failure to balance neighborhoods concerns against developer interests will influence future growth-related discussions but, with this particular council, that hope is dubious.
The only thing we can do as citizens is to vote very carefully in the primary and full elections (this August and November) for councilmembers who will better represent us.
Spread the Word: Put An End To Developer Misinformation
When You Hear It!
The media coverage of land use issues has been abysmal and much of it is heavily biased in favor of developers’ interests. It’s up to all of us to get the word out.
What developers claim:
Any new regulations will drive the price of rental housing up.
What’s actually happening:
Tearing down inventory of affordable rental homes and replacing them with town homes for purchase or new luxury apartments is driving rental prices up.
What developers claim:
Any new regulations will drive the price of homes for purchase up.
What’s actually happening:
Developers offering cash over asking price for older homes (which they then tear down) is driving the cost of purchasing a home up!
What developers claim:
That their version of density implementation is inclusive of all cultures and
What’s actually happening:
Their version of densification has gentrified our neighborhoods, displacing citizens and creating an unprecedented loss of the economic, cultural and ethnic diversity, the diversity which once made Seattle a vibrant and welcoming city.
6/16 City Hall Recap
PLUS Committee Hearing, Including Councilmembers’ Report Cards
At the June 16th Planning Land Use and Sustainability Committee meeting the City Council’s pro-developer members made one thing perfectly clear: the outcry from the residents of Seattle’s Lowrise Multifamily neighborhoods has largely fallen on deaf ears. A majority of the councilmembers in attendance voted to defeat all but three of Councilmember Tom Rasmussen’s eight neighborhood-friendly amendments, leaving no doubt about who’s pulling the strings inside City Hall. Since we’re fighting an uphill battle, we must keep the pressure up!
Votes for Councilmember Rasmussen’s Eight
Leading the charge on behalf of the developer lobby was PLUS Committee chair Mike O’Brien. His remarks during the hearings make it evident that he considers those of us who live in the multifamily zones to be necessary casualties of development. It is now obvious that he is completely unmoved by the displacement of families from their homes and apartments, the rapid destruction of our urban forest, the demolition of our architectural heritage, the gentrification of our neighborhoods, and the breathtaking loss of the economic, cultural and ethnic diversity.
Close behind Mike O’Brien was Council President Tim Burgess. His remarks leave no doubt that he considers Seattle a city divided between two classes of citizens: first-class citizens in heavily protected affluent neighborhoods, and second-class citizens in the multifamily zones. The claim that our elected officials are progressive is becoming more doubtful by the moment.
Most disappointing of all was the absence of Councilmember Kshama Sawant. Nothing could be more emblematic of the capacity of well-heeled real estate interests to intimidate even the most justice-oriented elected officials in the City. The promise she made to remain engaged in what she described as our “housing justice” struggle was—sad to say—empty.
Open Letter To Residents,
Are you concerned that the rapid proliferation of new development throughout your residential neighborhood surpasses the rate at which community, environmental, and infrastructure impact can properly be assessed? Troubled by the potential loss of your privacy to towering new construction? Worried that you’ll no longer be able to grow your own food in the shadow cast by enormous out-of-scale development? Well you should be! Recent changes to Seattle’s lowrise multifamily land use code precipitated a development boom that has grossly exceeded our city government’s own growth targets for Ballard’s Urban Village. These changes have also enabled developers to circumvent review processes intended to ensure that projects fit sensitively into neighborhoods. Dodging these review processes often results in buildings that are architecturally discordant and demonstrate disregard for the concerns of neighboring residents.
Increased density is inevitable and, to some extent, even desirable; theoretically, it should prevent urban sprawl, preserve green space, and give rise to affordable housing. We believe current growth in Ballard’s Urban Village residential areas dangerously outpaces expansion of infrastructure and services (metro/fire/police) while conferring no ecological or affordable housing advantages. In fact, several housing justice advocates and environmentalists agree with us: there has been a tremendous loss of trees and increase in rental cost where development is most concentrated.
With numerous, large, apartment and condo buildings already built or under construction in Ballard’s midrise zones, we question an affordable housing justification put forward by developers and their mouthpieces for bulldozing so many modest, lowrise zone structures. In fact, reasonably-priced duplex and triplex rentals as well as modest single family homes and historic structures in Ballard’s lowrise zones are often replaced with towering, out-of-scale, “formula design” developments that, when priced at market value, likely displace many of Ballard’s low to middle income residents.
The good news? If you’re frustrated by our representatives’ seeming inattention to residents’ concerns, developers’ clear indifference toward Ballard’s architectural history, and both parties’ inattention to community impact, you’re not alone!
We’ve drafted a petition addressing some of these concerns. It seeks corrections to Seattle’s current lowrise multifamily land use code while requesting a more transparent and resident-inclusive project vetting process. We hope this petition will encourage more community involvement in shaping Ballard’s future. While this document specifically cites Ballard concerns, we believe the changes we’re requesting would positively affect all Seattle