PubliQuestion and Answer: City Council Candidate David Miller

By Erica C. Barnett June 22, 2009


Miller, center (As everybody knows, PLUNC stands for Planning and Land Use Committee)

PubliCola's first in a series of Q&As with this year's city council contenders begins with David Miller, a Maple Leaf community activist, tree advocate, and biotech entrepreneur who's running for Seattle City Council Position 8. Miller and five other candidates are seeking the seat, which is being vacated by three-term incumbent Richard McIver, who's retiring. Miller has been endorsed by the 37th District Democrats (dual with Mike O'Brien) the 46th District Democrats (dual with Bobby Forch) and the 11th District Democrats (dual with Bobby Forch), as well as former City Council member Peter Steinbrueck, music community booster Dave Meinert, and Seattle Storm co-owner Anne Levinson. We met at Caffe Vita on Capitol Hill; what follows is the edited transcript of our conversation.

PubliCola: You're best known for fighting anti-development battles as the head of the  Maple Leaf Community Council. (See: The "Waldo Woods" controversy; townhouse design standards; the Pinehurst Safeway development). Can you convince me you're not a NIMBY ["Not In My Backyard"]?

David Miller: There are honest-to-goodness NIMBYs in the city and I am not one of them. No one else in this race has my breadth of experience. I bring together business leadership, neighborhood leadership, and environmental leadership—and if we can get the labor folks to come together and join the party, that's great too.

Unfortunately, in this city, anybody who opposes any development gets called a NIMBY, and there are some really bad developments. With the Waldo Woods development (Ed: Miller and the MLCC opposed the demolition of the former Waldo Hospital in Maple Leaf, which is slated to be torn down for a townhouse development, citing concerns over tree loss and lead dust), we were willing to give up part of our park to save the trees... Density belongs in our urban villages and urban centers. That's where we need to concentrate it.

PubliCola: Of course even people who support density agree that most of it should go in the designated urban villages and urban centers, but what about low-density infill in neighborhoods? Isn't some neighborhood density necessary if we're going to reach our growth management goals?

Miller: One of the reasons I worked so hard on (last year's $145 million) parks levy is we've always been catching up with our concurrency. As we bring density online, the amenities, like roads and pedestrian amenities, transit, parks and schools—those all have to come with it. The issue isn't actually density—it's concurrency. But when you ask for sidewalks, the city just laughs. The neighborhoods have learned that they can't win on concurrency, so they fight the density.

PubliCola: Other than concentrating density in urban centers, what's your top priority if elected?

Miller: The city has to do something about getting more bus hours in Seattle. There's an environmental benefit, there's an affordabilty benefit, and there's a reducing the number of cars benefit. If our one and only legislative priority for the next four years is breaking 40/40/20 [the formula by which new Metro hours get allocated, with just 20 percent of new hours going to Seattle], I'd be fine with that. Metro's broke, and they're going to get broker in the next 24 months. So let's go to the state and the feds and fix things.  If you put the new money where the demand is, Seattle's going to get most of it. Bellevue is starting to understand that they need more transit hours as well. Can we go in with them and have a 5 to 4 vote [of the King County Cocuncil] to strike it? We have to solve that problem.

PubliCola: Do you support the $145 million housing levy renewal that will be on the ballot this November?

Miller: I do support it. But: There shouldn't have been any money for people making 80% of median income [in the levy]. [Ed: For a four-person household, 80 percent of the King County median is $61,500; for a one-person household, it's $43,050]. What's dumb about 80 percent is that it assumes that housing prices are going to outstrip income at such a great rate that  it's going to be the equivalent of the inflation in housing prices we saw during the boom of '06 to '08. You'd basically have to have completely stagnant incomes and dramatically rising housing prices for that to make sense.

PubliCola: You've said you agree with the idea of getting people out of their cars and onto transit, bikes, and so forth. How would you go about doing that?

Miller: There are two thoughts about how we get to carless Nirvana: We either beat people out of their cars or we carrot people out of their cars, and I believe in the carrot. We have won the battle in Seattle that we should convince people to take the bus. What we do need is decent transit service. Fundamentally, we need more transit hours.

PubliCola: How would you define "beating people out of their cars"?

Miller: Things like making it impossible to park, the idea that if we choke the streets enough, people won't drive. I am a fan of road diets [reducing the number of car lanes and increasing bike and pedestrian facilities] in some situations, but not all. W'

PubliCola: What makes you think you can win in this crowded field?

Miller: I think this race marks a shift in our city from the battles of the '70s and '80s— environmentalists vs. business and business vs. labor. Biotech is the new thing. Green jobs are the new thing. It's a different way of looking at the job of a city council member--being out in the neighborhoods to understand how things are shifting. [Neighborhoods]  want somebody who is the neighborhood guy, but they also want somebody who undersands business as well, and who has an environmental background. Ten years ago, that wouldn't have gotten you anywhere. Now it does.
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