Caffeinated News

1. In a rare instance, bike-riding former Sierra Club leader, city council member Mike O'Brien, isn't on the bike/ped promoting Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) side. Check out yesterday's gamillion word post about O'Brien's dissident vote at Tuesday morning's transportation committee meeting. O'Brien voted against an SDOT proposal to give Vulcan a waiver on a half-a-million dollar permitting fee to build what SDOT considers an activated public streetscape on 8th Ave. N. in South Lake Union. O'Brien considered the waiver a giveaway to adjacent commercial building tenants (most likely Amazon) for their own corporate park on public right of way.

To add a few more words: While it may appear like O'Brien was simply pulling a Sawant by deprioritizing green urban policy with an economic justice angle against supposed "corporate power," I think green O'Brien is one step ahead of his environmentalist cohorts. He's identified that the green goal of turning the suburban corporate campus ideal (Microsoft in the '90s) into the urban corporate campus ideal (innovation districts such as Kendall Square in Boston today) means corporate campuses actually have to integrate with the city and not just be plunked down in the middle of them. 

O'Brien is one step ahead of his environmentalist cohorts.

After the 2-1 committee vote (with committee chair Tom Rasmussen and committee member Jean Godden in favor), the full council is set to take up the proposal as soon as next week.

2. Also at yesterday's transportation committee meeting: The council members passed SDOT's plan to purchase $40 million worth in extra bus hours per year over the next six years from the 0.1 percent sales tax and a $60 vehicle license fee that Seattle voters approved last year. The deal gives Seattle 223,000 in additional service hours per year (though only about 123,000 this year because the new service wont kick in until June).

There had been philosophical tension between the county and the city over the priorities of the service buy with King County council member Rod Dembowski, for example, wanting to make sure the city was prioritizing overcrowding and reliability while the city, according to its own Seattle Transit Master Plan, was adding its own priority to the mix: serving non-peak commuters—a de facto social equity screen that makes sure invisible class workers like janitors and hotel workers are well served. For example, while the city plan puts 29 percent of the hours into addressing "Overcrowding/Peak" and nine percent into addressing unreliability, it puts the largest number, 34 percent, into non-peak evening hours. 

Rasmussen added an amendment to the deal that addressed the difference with a win for both sides, essentially making the contract flexible to ongoing adjustments—an invitation to revisit the disagreement if one side feels its goals aren't being met.

Rasmussen's amendment said: "It is the goal of the city and county to reduce crowding and improve reliability with the additional city investments during the course of this agreement, consistent with the priorities of the King County Metro Service Guidelines and the Seattle Transit Master Plan. The city and county further have the goal of responding flexibly to ridership demands during the course of this agreement."

223,000 hours, by the way, is the equivalent of 34 more buses running 18 hours a day, 365 days a year.

3. Bringing the number to at least six, there's a new candidate in the district one (West Seattle) race for city council. Affordable housing advocate Brianna Thomas, the Field Director for the Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund. Prior to working on that issue (arguably the hottest issue in Seattle right now) Thomas was the campaign manager for Yes for SeaTac, the $15 minimum wage campaign that started it all.

4. Speaking of council races: The formidable third district (Capitol Hill) default incumbent, socialist all star Kshama Sawant may have a formidable fundraiser as an opponent.

I gave former Equal Rights Washington director Rod Hearne a tepid intro when he announced his candidacy in early January, but he raised an impressive $10,500 in January vs. Sawant's $3,400 raised. Sawant has just $582 cash on hand having raised $8,588 overall all in over a year of fundrasing vs. Hearne's three weeks.

As was expected, Hearne's early fundraising already includes big gifts from attorneys at establishment firms such as Summit Law Group.

I hear Hearne will be reporting more fundraising today bringing him up to $20,000.

5. For the third year in a row, after passing the Democratic house, but stalling in the Republican-controlled senate, civil rights activists are pushing legislation dubbed the Washington voting rights act. The bill, sponsored by state senator Cyrus Habib (D-48, Kirkland) gives minority communities, protected classes under federal law, that can prove they've been disenfranchised at the polls (say, in Yakima, whose at-large city council lacks a single Latino member despite the city's large Latino population) to move to districted elections. A court ruled last year that Yakima had to change its system; this legislation provides a non-judicial remedy. 

“It seems a little subjective.”—Sen. Pam RoachThe bill creates a specific cause of action for protected classes, but gives the powers that be an option to avoid costly court battles.

The bill summary says:

Before filing a legal action, a person must notify the political subdivision that the person intends to challenge the election system. The notice must provide information, including the protected class impacted, a reasonable analysis of the data regarding vote dilution and polarized voting underlying the person's claim, and proposed remedies. If the subdivision adopts the proposed remedy in the notice within 90 days of receipt, no legal action may be brought against the subdivision for four years alleging a violation of the Act if the subdivision does not modify the scheme in the remedy.

Republican committee members took issue with the language of the bill. Chair of the senate government operations and oversight committee, senator Pam Roach (R-31, Auburn), said, “partisan voting is not clear enough,” adding “it seems a little subjective.”
Shankar Narayan, legislative director for the ACLU, which supports the bill, said:  “It’s not when a single candidate of color loses an election, it’s when you statistically show over a period of time that there is a substantial minority that votes one way and everybody else votes another way, and essentially that minority is getting outvoted every time. The electoral system could actually make a difference in the outcome of those elections.” 


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