On the Same Page

By Erica C. Barnett June 26, 2009


Jessie Israel, who's running against incumbent Nick Licata for City Council Position 6, recently received two seemingly contradictory sole endorsements: One from the Washington Conservation Voters, a pro-density, pro-transit environmental group, the other from the Seattle/King County chapter of the Washington Association of Realtors, a deep-pocketed real-estate group that often spends money on local races. (This year, the Realtors have contributed to Republican King County Council members Reagan Dunn and Kathy Lambert, as well as Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin.) The Realtors' group typically supports limiting environmental and development regulations; WCV generally supports tougher environmental rules that support density, energy efficiency, and clean air and water.

Asked why the Realtors supported Israel, association public-affairs director David Crowell pointed to two issues, both of which would appear to conflict with her environmental-community support. First, Crowell said, Israel told the group she would not let tree protections stand in the way of development within growth management boundaries (i.e., in cities). "She remarked that trees are very important, but if it's a question between trees and density ... in urban areas ... density would trump trees," Crowell said.

The second issue was legislation considered and later rejected by the city council that would have required homeowners to do mandatory "energy audits" before selling their homes, at a typical cost, Crowell estimates, of about $700. The idea is to let homeowners know whether the house or condo they're buying is energy efficient; however, Crowell says, the Realtors worry that mandatory audits are "just one step away from the city requiring that anything that came out negative in a home energy audit would have to be fixed before the home could sell."

Asked whether Israel's opposition to strong tree regulations and mandatory energy audits conflicted with WCV's environmental agenda, WCV spokeswoman Sudha Nandagopal said, "when it gets down to specific details like this, we don't stake out official positions on every issue." Nandagopal says the group decided to endorse Israel because she "really showed that she'll be an environmental champion" on the council, by supporting "walkable, transit-oriented communities—things that are also very important for tree canopy protection."

As for why WCV didn't endorse Licata, as they have in the past, Nandagopal said, "Nick has been a strong opponent of Sound Transit for many years, and he's not really on same page with us on density issues. When it comes down to it, Nick Licata is not running with the environment as a priority."
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