Isn't It Weird That ... All three of the mayoral candidates who have come out strongly in the past week with positions on whether Whole Foods should be denied an alley vacation because they aren't unionized all changed their positions from the views they expressed at a forum just one month ago? 

Mayor Mike McGinn has turned an otherwise routine alley vacation (the sale of a public alley to a private company) for Whole Foods in West Seattle into a campaign issue, by recommending that the city council deny the vacation on the grounds that Whole Foods doesn't pay its workers a livable wage; he says it's the mayor's prerogative to make land-use recommendations based on factors like economic justice. 

Two of his leading opponents, former city council member Peter Steinbrueck and state Sen. Ed Murray, have vehemently disagreed. Steinbrueck told PubliCola McGinn's recommendation may be "illegal" because land-use decisions aren't supposed to be based on purely "social" concerns like providing a living wage. And Murray told us he thought McGinn's position was "wrong" because the mayor is "divisively" attempting to thwart a process that has been in the works for more than a year to approve a massive redevelopment that would replace a former used-car lot and a funeral home.

However, at a Service Employees International Union-sponsored forum last month, all three candidates (responding to a question about whether the city could use land-use laws to exclude Wal-Mart, which pays much lower wages than Whole Foods, from Seattle), offered very different answers from their current positions on Whole Foods. 

First, McGinn (at around the 37:30 mark in the link above), says he doesn't believe land use laws are "set up very well in this regard. We can say whether or not there is a grocery store or not a grocery store," but not dictate the specific grocery store. "This is something where we're going to have to lift the standards across the board, and it's going to take some changes in other levels of law" to target specific companies for paying low wages. (McGinn's campaign denies that the mayor's subsequent position that Whole Foods shouldn't get the alley vacation because of the wages they pay doesn't contradict the less-specific position he took at the SEIU forum.)

Next, Murray takes exactly the opposite position, arguing explicitly that things like "street vacations"—the very kind of land-use decisions he more recently said shouldn't be used to put pressure on employers to pay better wages—could be used as "leverage" to "get the kind of wages that are needed."

Finally, Steinbrueck too takes the opposite position from what he's currently saying, arguing that "as a land use expert and an architect," he can say that "there are ways to use the land use code ... to discourage this kind of development. I think we just say no to Wal-Mart. We don't want it."  

Bruce Harrell has not returned our calls for comment. But here's what he had to say at the SEIU forum: "It's very seductive to say what you're against. The key is what you're for. ... and I'm for our local businesses."


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