City Hall

McGinn on Whole Foods: Just Doing My Job

Was the mayor's Whole Foods memo a standard part of the land-use process?

By Josh Feit July 26, 2013

Yesterday, I wrote that mayoral candidate state Sen. Ed Murray (D-43, Capitol Hill) had awkwardly shoehorned his response to Mayor Mike McGinn's anti-Whole Foods memo into a Murray campaign talking point ("McGinn is divisive") as opposed to directly addressing the issue of living-wage jobs.

I stand by that. But my simultaneous contention that McGinn was just doing his job might not be as straightforward as I initially thought.

McGinn's campaign contends, as I wrote, that the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), which drafts street and alley vacation legislation, is an executive branch department and so, despite the fact that the city council has the final say on passing and granting street vacations, McGinn, as the executive, is expected to provide direction.

However, according to a 2009 council resolution on street vacation policy, when it comes to street vacations (granting private developers exclusive access to public rights of way), SDOT is working for the council, not the mayor. The resolution states: "Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) administers the review process at the request of the City Council."

Other (analogous) city code, such as rezone regs and skybridge right of way code for private parties, do not explicitly include the phrase "at the request of the City Council," which indicates that street vacations are a special circumstance, explicitly under council management. The implication—supporting the contention made by McGinn's mayoral campaign rivals that he was grandstanding for the grocery workers' union rather than simply doing his job—is this: While some decisions make room for a mayoral recommendation, street vacation decisions do not.

The mayor's office doesn't think I passed the bar exam, though.

McGinn spokesman Robert Cruickshank told me today:

By referring to SDOT, those policies are giving the executive branch an explicit role. The mayor is the head of the executive branch, SDOT is an executive branch agency, and its director reports to the mayor. The City Council refers a request to the executive branch, in the form of SDOT, but the City Council still has the final call on whether a street/alley vacation, of course, as we have always stated.Peter Hahn, SDOT director, is the person who transmits the recommendations on a request for a street or alley vacation to the City Council.

As you know, Peter Hahn directly reports to the mayor. Our letter was providing him direction on this, which is something the mayor routinely does with Hahn and his other department heads on other issues.

I have a call in to the land use attorneys at McCullough Hill Leary, P.S., the firm that's working on Whole Foods' street vacation petition. Presumably they passed the bar exam and might be able to say if my reading of the city law makes any sense.

They have not returned my calls.


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