The unofficial first public forum of the 2015 (yes, 2015) campaign season took place in an overpacked lunch room at the Rainier Valley Community Center this afternoon where incumbent city council candidate Bruce Harrell, challenger Tammy Morales, and incumbent Sally Clark sat down (along with Louis Watanabe and Pramila Jayapal, the two Democrats running for the state senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Adam Kline, D-37) in front of the Rainier Chamber of Commerce.
Clark, Harrell, and Morales all live in Southeast Seattle, AKA the newly created City Council District 2; Harrell and Morales are running for the District 2 position, while Clark is currently running for one of two remaining citywide council seats.
Over beet salad, meatball sliders, and chocolate panna cotta from nearby Tutta Bella (whose owner, Joe Fugere, has endorsed Jayapal), the candidates made their pitch and fielded Valley-specific questions from the packed room.
While Jayapal and Watanabe's campaign may be more immediately pressing (both are on the ballot this November, running in a district that encompasses parts of Southeast Seattle, Renton, and Skyway), the fight for the newly created Second Seattle City Council district is a microcosm of the battles that will play out across the city for the seven council districts (and, to a lesser extent, the two at-large districts) this coming fall.
Previously, council candidates (and incumbents) have focused on broader issues that impact the entire city: Affordable housing, for example, or sidewalks, or gender equity.
Now, council races are shaping up to focus more parochially on issues specific to each geographic district, with Mike O'Brien, for example, whose Northwest Seattle (District 6) constituents have expressed concern about microhousing and other developments that increase density near single-family homes, recently shifted gears, straying from his green-urbanist roots to back rules that make it harder to build "aPodments" and houses on small lots. (He also supported a "linkage fee" proposal that developers and some urbanists opposed.)The fight for the newly created Second Seattle City Council district is a microcosm of the battles that will play out across the city for the seven council districts.
Morales, who runs a food policy group called Urban Food Link and , talked about her work to make healthy food more accessible to low-income Rainier Valley residents and said the city needs to adopt "principles for responsible development so that we can manage growth but do it in an equitable way." If she remains a frontrunner in the race, we expect this first-time candidate's pitch to Southeast Seattle to get more specific between now and next November.
"We live in the poorest area of town; that's just the fact of the matter," Harrell said today. "If we're going to beautify and improve this area, we're going to have to address income inequality."
On other Southeast Seattle issues, Harrell staunchly defended his record at the council. Despite persistent complaints that the city fails to invest in the Rainier Valley, Harrell said, "I don't think our city has neglected this area in terms of investments. In Southeast Seattle, we have one of the more walkable areas. Eighty percent of our neighborhood streets have sidewalks. We have light rail. They're dying for that stuff in Ballard" and other parts of the North End, he said.
Asked about road safety on the Rainier Valley's two main thoroughfares, MLK and Rainier, Harrell responded that he wasn't sure a "road diet" on Rainier was the best way to improve safety on that notoriously dangerous thoroughfare; instead, he suggested, it might make more sense to siphon traffic onto MLK. MLK, of course, was the site of a hit-and-run collision this week that put a seven-year-old girl in the hospital. "I actually think MLK could withstand some more [traffic] if we were willing to divert that," Harrell said.
And although Clark is currently running citywide, she, too, focused on Southeast Seattle, touting a recent city resolution supporting the creation of new transit-oriented development fund, which would, along with money from the county, leverage federal dollars to buy up undeveloped land owned by Sound Transit along the light-rail route.
The background: Sound Transit bought up numerous chunks of land–many of them, as Clark noted, mere "shards" that can't be developed—to use as staging areas during light rail construction. Now that Sound Transit no longer needs that land, the parcels are sitting vacant, many of them no more than gravel lots surrounded by chain-link fences.
"There are a lot of shards that are not developable, and we need Sound Transit to be more aggressively involved with us in terms of determining" what happens to them, Clark said.
Voters will choose their newly reconstituted council in November 2015—a mere 13 months away.