Morning Fizz

TCC Director Rob Johnson to Run for City Council

Caffeinated News featuring: Neighborhood urbanism? Republican urbanism? McCleary funding? and Paseo?!?

By Morning Fizz November 12, 2014

1. The conventional wisdom about the new districted elections system for city council is that it will foster a backlash against years of urbanist policies at city hall (think bike lanes on 2nd Ave., upzones for density and mixed use in South Lake Union, for example, and parking maximums instead of minimums in urban villages citywide.) Districts, the logic goes, will bring out a parade of "Lesser Seattle" candidates who are skeptical of multi-family housing, road diets, and greenways as they fight to protect their single-family neighborhoods. 

Think again. Hailing from the suburban-esque 4th District (Lake Union to Sand Point) no less, the latest candidate to enter the race—expect an official announcement this afternoon—is one of Seattle's leading advocates for remaking the city with transit as the organizing principle: Rob Johnson, the longtime executive director of Transportation Choices Coalition. TCC is the scrappy non-profit that brought you this year's bus funding measure, Prop. 1; and their Pioneer Square office was also the default HQ of 2008's successful campaign to expand light rail.

Johnson, who has been rumored to be running since September, turns the conventional wisdom about neighborhoods as cranky enclaves of anti-urbanism on its head telling Fizz "there's a neighborhood renaissance going on right now" where young families (he's 36 and lives in Ravenna with his wife and toddlers) "want more places they walk to and bike to." Call it "placemaking" or whatever urban planning blog term fits, but Johnson is passionate about "building public spaces" along transit infrastructure so people aren't solely dependent on a car. 

Johnson turns the conventional wisdom about neighborhoods as cranky enclaves of anti-urbanism on its head telling Fizz, "there's a neighborhood renaissance going on right now" when it comes to building transit-oriented neighborhoods.

People may think of the 4th District (which includes Laurelhurst, Ravenna, Wedgwood, and View Ridge) as more Desperate Housewives than Sex and the City, but Johnson likes to point out that three of the five new light rail stations that are coming online—Husky Stadium, the Ave., and Roosevelt—are all in the 4th District, which he thinks presents an opportunity for changing the energy and demographics of the community. Noting that transportation is the "second biggest household cost," Johnson sees the new light rail hubs as a way to address housing affordability.

Johnson also sees 520 as a boon for transforming his district, viewing it as an opportunity to "knit neighborhoods together with better connections to transit and not feeling like we've built a divide."

Johnson, who'll be taking on longtime City Council member Jean Godden, already has some impressive endorsements—liberal establishment star King County Executive Dow Constantine for one and anti-establishment tunnel detractor Cary Moon, for another. 

Two other young (white) guys like Johnson are also in the mix. Democratic activist and single gay dad Michael Maddux has already declared (getting a Fizz LIKE). And City Council member Tim Burgess' aide Alex Pedersen recently left Burgess' office to, it appears, cue up a council run. 

"Jean has passion for city governance, but I'm a transportation guy," Johnson says, "and I think Jean hasn't shown leadership on transportation issues." 

2. Speaking of Seattle's urbanist agenda, D.C. free market think tank R Street released a study this morning grading America's largest 50 cities when it comes to regulations of new app-based ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. Seattle, thanks to Mayor Ed Murray's recent deal to get rid of caps on ridehsare companies, was just one of 14 cities (along with Austin, Minneapolis, D.C., and San Francisco) to get an A.

The study also graded cities on taxi regulations and limo (or "for hire") services. Seattle's taxi industry got a D in R Street's estimation for having supply caps and for having the inflationary "medallion" system; another part of Murray's compromise was ceding to the taxi industry's demand to make taxi licenses a tradeable commodity. R Street gave Seattle a B on its limo regulations citing no metered fares and no minimum fares or waiting times as pluses. 

The study didn't take airport guidelines into account. Interestingly, the free market think tank acknowledged that stricter regulations "might make sense" at airports because customers at airports are a captive market. 

Overall, Seattle's combined "ride score" (the right's rejoinder to "walk scores"?) was a B (82.7) with the city's D grade for taxis (64.47) bringing down the score. 

Of Murray's Uber-friendly compromise deal (we scored 100 on ridesharing), R Street analyst Andrew Moylan told Fizz he [Murray] "gave everybody what they wanted" which kept the taxi industry's monopoly trappings too much in tact for R Street's liking. 

3. Saying he expected a "blood bath" in the upcoming legislative session in the fight to find K-12 funding—the legislature needs to find about $5 billion extra to meet the Washington State Supreme Court's McCleary mandate and now another $4 billion to meet voter-approved I-1351 to lower class sizes—state house budget leader Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48, Medina) told me he "doesn't believe" the legislature can find the money without new revenue. He's heard, though, that his counterpart, Republican budget leader Sen. Andy Hill (R-45, Redmond), says the fix doesn't require new revenue. (Hill didn't return our call).

Hunter didn't see any immediate way forward: "Do you have the votes for a lot of taxes? No. Are there votes for a lot of cuts? No." 

4. Never mind the pending constitutional crisis over K-12 funding: For all the news on the tragedy of the year,  yesterday's stunning revelation that local gem Paseo is closed, check out SeattleMet's Nosh Pit blog.

My colleague Allecia Vermillion has the scoop






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