Morning Fizz

Friday LIKES & DISLIKES: City Council Districts Five and Six

Mike O'Brien, Sandy Brown, Debadutta Dash, Mercedes Elizalde, Debora Juarez, and Halei Watkins review the week's news

By Josh Feit July 17, 2015

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In the runup to the August 4 primary election, Fizz’s regular Friday LIKES & DISLIKES column is featuring this year’s city council candidates.

For today’s fourth installment of City Council Candidate LIKES & DISLIKES, we asked District Six (Ballard/ Fremont) candidate Mike O’Brien (who’s facing lackluster opposition) and District Five’s (Northeast Seattle) most impressive candidates to analyze the week’s local news.


Outspoken Sierra Club activist turned establishment Sound Transit Board member. Diehard urbanist turned born again social justice guy (which has led to some awkward moments with the urbanists—a pod apartment and lowrise development crackdown and a blanket linkage fee proposal on development.) Second-term incumbent city council member Mike O’Brien has been in the headlines lately as a kayaktivist, protesting Shell Oil’s rig at the Port of Seattle. O’Brien’s environmentalism—which led to the Seattle Times’ petulant pass in his race—brings O'Brien right back to where he first started as a freshman council member when he first took on big biz to save the planet; in his first term, O’Brien passed a plastic bag ban and opt out legislation (since overturned by the courts) to prevent phone books from piling up in foyers citywide. Take it away Mike O’Brien

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Mike O'Brien at Shell protest/Image Josh Kelety

 Mike O’Brien

1. I LIKE that for the first time in Seattle, we will soon have a progressive paradigm for new development: every new building will include or contribute to affordable housing. This is what I have been working towards for the past two years, so I was proud to stand with the mayor and HALA committee on Monday to announce the new mandatory inclusionary housing and commercial linkage fee programs. We now have a deal in place to help Seattle meet the growing affordability crisis. There is still a lot of work to do before these policies are fully implemented and producing the affordable housing we need, but this week’s announcement was historic and a great step forward for our city.

In a nutshell, here is how it works. Under the mandatory inclusionary housing program, new residential development will be required to set aside 5 percent to 7 percent of total units as affordable to those making 60 percent or less than the area median income. New commercial buildings will be required to pay a commercial linkage fee that will go to the Office of Housing to help produce housing for those who need it most, that is for those making less than 30 percent of the area median income.

Will these two tools alone get us all the affordability we need? No, we will need additional policies and programs to help preserve existing market-rate affordable units (i.e., unsubsidized units that are affordable by nature of being older building stock, for example), as well as new tools to help create more affordable family-sized units. But the ‘Grand Bargain’ reached by HALA will help us produce 6,000 affordable units in the next 10 years.

2. I LIKE that City Council voted 8-1 to place the community-driven Initiative 122, Honest Elections Seattle, on the November ballot to give Seattle voters a chance to bring publicly financed elections back to City Council races.

That said, I really DISLIKE that local political consultant Sandeep Kaushik, with Sound View Strategies, is heading up the opposition campaign. Perhaps he views publicly financed elections (read: getting big money out of politics) as a threat to his business model as a political consultant, or perhaps he just sees this as another way to gin up pro-business business for his firm (he also lobbied on behalf of the payday lending businesses in this last state legislative session). Whatever the reason for his position, I DISLIKE it, and I hope progressive candidates and organizations alike will join me and countless individuals in LIKING and supporting the campaign to bring Honest Elections to Seattle.


 In Northeast Seattle's District Five, we narrowed it down to the five candidates (out of eight) we’ve found most impressive at this year’s parade of forums: church council lefty activist (gun control, gay rights) Reverend Sandy Brown; Asian and Pacific Islanders activist and business busy body Debadutta Dash; low-income housing advocate (and Low-Income Housing Institute staffer) Mercedes Elizalde; former King County Superior Court judge and tribal rights attorney and Native American/Mexican-American Debora Juarez; and Planned Parenthood staffer Halei Watkins.

 Sandy Brown

Thanks to PubliCola for a brief reprieve from the humdrum life of candidate endorsement questionnaires, canvassing, fundraising, late night interviews, forums, glad-handing, baby kissing and rubber chicken dinnering. I LIKE leaving all that behind to give you guys an extra half-day off by writing part of his Friday Likes and Dislikes. In exchange, I have 32 endorsement questionnaires for you that are due by tomorrow…

 1. I LIKE the Tim Burgess-sponsored Gun Safety Tax and Mandatory Reporting of Lost and Stolen Firearms Proposal that funds gun violence research and safety costs. As we all know, the gun lobby convinced Congress to forbid federal funds for gun violence research, so Burgess’s gun tax bill undoes a tiny bit of that (as his previous bill had, also) and goes a step further to require owners to notify law enforcement if their guns are lost or stolen. The council’s Governance Committee gave the bill a hearing Wednesday, and it was a reunion of sorts between pro- and con- gun responsibility activists from last year’s I-594/591 debate. There was Cheryl Stumbo with Grandmothers Against Gun Violence listening to Second Amendment spokesman Philip Watson—like old times. This time gun rights absolutists issued dire warnings about how Seattle voters would rise up against leaders who support this common sense measure. An idle threat since last year’s successful statewide measure, I-594, passed in Seattle with a rather comfortable 89 percent margin, and council members are certain to make it law. We’re a long way from it in Olympia, but I secretly LIKE having a Seattle city council that listens to tiresome scare tactics of the gun lobby with a yawn.

The start of Wednesday’s meeting wasn’t a yawner at all, but instead featured City Council candidate Alex Tsimmerman using the public comment period to spew a bombastic tirade that dug impressively deep into the Lexicon of English Language Vulgarisms. Burgess had already told Tsimmerman he was two warnings into an exculsionary hat trick, which I think only served to engorge Tsimmerman’s vocabulary. After Burgess ruled him out of order, four large men in navy blue blazers and white earphones appeared at Tsimmerman’s side and escorted him out of the room while he cackled oddly into thin air. For the briefest moment I think I did catch a glimpse of what The Stranger meant this week when it called Burgess “Seattle’s Tywin Lannister.” (I mean that with respect. By GoT standards King’s Landing didn’t do so badly with Tywin in command).

2. Speaking of wealthy elites, I LIKE the City Council’s 8-1 decision Monday (John Okamoto opposed) to put Honest Elections Seattle (I-122) on the November ballot. Campaign finance in the US is beyond sick, and any little steps can only help. But first bad sign for the bill: the proposal’s tiny property tax levy will be joined on the ballot by the gargantuan Move Seattle levy, which can’t be good. Plus it already has opposition in the “No Election Vouchers” committee led by Sandeep Kaushik who used the occasion to reintroduce the word “cockamamie” after a deservedly long absence.

Whether or not it’s cockamamie, the proposal’s biggest shortcomings arise from limits placed on it by the (here comes) cockamamie Roberts Court campaign finance rulings. By federal law I-122 can’t limit independent expenditures like this one in my district (DISLIKE) or large personal contributions by candidates to their own campaigns (DISLIKE), which sadly will continue to skew Seattle elections toward big money whether or not I-122 becomes law. Positive provisions that limit lobbying by former electeds (LIKE) and reduce maximum contributions from $700 to $500 (MEH) may be offset by the untried voucher system (LIKE/DISLIKE). Plus, one campaign finance expert told me recently that the $3 million price tag is roughly twice what local elections cost per cycle, which if he’s right means we’d spend more in order to contribute less. Still, it’s worthy of a public conversation, a vote, and a PubliCola LIKE to the Council for moving it ahead.

What? No LIKE/DISLIKE action on this week’s biggest news, the HALA launch? With HALA’s 15 action steps and 65 recommendations spread over 2 ½ years there’s lots of time to cheer and moan. I give Hizzoner a LIKE for political skill, a helpful trait in a political leader. Now it’s up to the Council to make the proposal better, fairer, and hopefully faster toward the very worthy goal of making Seattle, “a place for people of all incomes to live and enjoy.”

Debadutta Dash

1. Irrespective of the positions being staked on the numerous and noteworthy propositions included in the City's HALA Committee report, I LIKE HALA's refreshing and frank statements, which were reaffirmed by the Supreme Court, regarding institutional racism, class exclusion and zoning in housing policy historically and the legacy that has left us today. Naming this history is important for us to reckon with it. During this period of strong growth, we must work to remain a diverse, equitable city for people of all income levels and backgrounds.

 And, while it's starting by only serving a small number of children (230 students in 12 classrooms) I LIKE the fact that Seattle's Universal Pre-K program is getting underway. With early childhood education one of the more cost effective and proven strategies to improve academic performance, I'm looking forward to being an advocate on the Council for expanding access and making Universal Pre-K truly universal for Seattle families.

2. Housing affordability and homelessness continue to be prominent issues in the civic sphere, and with good reason. I fully support encampments as safer, and more humane than some of the alternatives but I DISLIKE Mayor Murray's lack of outreach and engagement regarding a number of new proposed locations and how that has poisoned the well with the neighbors. Encampments are like other developments, bringing new neighbors to the community, and we need to engage each other in discussion to address concerns and fears which may be unfounded but are real and strongly felt nonetheless and could poison relations between those in the encampment and in the rest of the community before anyone has even moved in. As your city councilmember I would organize and participate in these discussions.

Mercedes Elizalde

1. I really LIKE mandatory inclusionary zoning. I am really excited about this development as part of HALA. I think inclusionary zoning plus a commercial linkage fee is a great proposal. There are so many places in the city that nonprofits cannot build because of the high expense of land and construction in certain areas of the city, this opens up whole new spaces that will finally have more affordable housing.  As this goes through the legislative process we need to ensure that the “mandatory” part of inclusionary zoning does not get watered down. If a developer is to ever build offsite or pay fees in lieu it should be at the direct of the city, never simply at the request of the developer. We should set a standard of affordable units to market rate and if an area is at that standard minimum then the city can advise the developer they have the option to build offsite or pay fees in lieu. I DISLIKE that it doesn’t include 1:1 replacement of affordable lost units; I also wish the limits were lower, aiming for 50 percent AMI, but all in all I like this idea and am so excited to see it start working its way through our legislative process.

2. I really LIKE Mary’s Place new shelter and family service center in north Seattle! Last week I attended the open house for their new site, and it is looking great! The families I met there are incredible! The north end of Seattle hasn’t until now had a year round shelter. Several faith communities host winter shelters, many of them rotating during the short three to four months they’re open. The opening of this space provides a consistent place where people can get help and get connected to resources they need to get stable and stay safe during the hardest time in their lives. Soon the building will be opening up during the day time to allow for families in need who are not staying at the shelter get connected with support. I DISLIKE that people have to travel downtown just to find support; we should be able to find help and opportunity inside our own communities. This is the kind of equitable access to service the city should be investing in and exactly what I want to keep fighting for. The space they are in is only available for a year and we need the city to commit to helping them find a permanent space in north Seattle; 2, 813 people were found sleeping outside during this year’s One Night Count, we need the city to prioritize shelter funding so that no one sleeps outside.

Debora Juarez

1. I LIKE the bold vision of an interconnected transit network proposed by the folks at Seattle Subway, most recently in a post this week on the Seattle Transit Blog. Our frustratingly gridlocked transportation system is only going to get more bogged down with the coming addition of 1.7 million new residents to the Seattle metropolitan area over the next 25 years. At this point in time, District 5 is only slated to receive a single light-rail station. Under this truly regional plan, our district would be serviced by 5 to 6 stops and two separate light-rail lines (serving both the East and the West sides of I-5), directly connecting our district to the whole of Seattle as well as to communities as far away as Everett in the North, Tacoma in the South, Woodinville to the Northeast, and Issaquah to the Southeast.        

2. I DISLIKE the lack of disaster preparedness in the City of Seattle. Thanks to some excellent reporting by Kathryn Schulz of the New Yorker, this critical issue is being featured at every dinner table conversation in the city. Especially galling is the foot-dragging by local and federal governments in the installation of a modern earthquake early warning system, technology that would help us minimize damage in the event of a major quake. This network, when installed throughout the Pacific Northwest, could provide up to a 4-minute advance warning of a major quake. We can thank seismic activity for making the Pacific Northwest one of the most beautiful places in the world to live, but we need to take proactive measures to mitigate the small yet appreciable risk of a big quake in the near future.

Halei Watkins

1. I LIKE that Honest Elections was referred to the November ballot by a 8-1 vote of the City Council. I-122 will reduce contribution limits, require a three year “cooling off” period that prevents city officials from to turning their experience into a paid lobbying gig right away, and gives every Seattle voter $100 in “Democracy Vouchers” to donate to their favorite candidate(s). I-122 makes it more possible than ever for grassroots candidates to compete with candidates backed by moneyed interests. Districts were the first step to creating a system that encourages more women, young people, and people of color to run for office and Honest Elections is certainly the next step necessary to ensure that grassroots candidates stand a chance.

I-122 also frees up a candidate’s time to do what’s most important: talking to voters. As a candidate myself, I will tell you that the least exciting part of running for office is sitting in a room and calling your friends, family, and strangers to ask for money for your campaign. While Honest Elections doesn’t completely eliminate that reality, it allows those running for office to spend less time staring at a wall and a call sheet and more time having conversations about the issues facing our city and connecting with voters.  

This year we have a litany of exciting non-traditional, grassroots candidates across the city and still the conversation is dominated by “conventional” wisdom. Young women running for office are still not taken seriously, complimented for our courage in running “for the experience,” and told that while we don’t have a chance this year, we should run again one day, you know, when it’s our turn. I-122 changes the conversation and has the potential to change the face of our City Council. I’ll be voting yes on I-122 in November and I hope that you will do the same.

2. I also LIKE the assertion made by Stranger writer Ansel Herz this week that “There is zero justification for doing nothing right now to advance municipal broadband in Seattle…” Access to the internet is no longer a luxury but a utility. Seattleites need strong and reliable Internet service to do homework, pay our bills, do our jobs, and navigate the world around us. Too many areas in the city face faltering service and exorbitantly high prices with a subpar result. It’s time for the City of Seattle to step up, stop commissioning studies, and move forward in building out municipal broadband.

It won’t be easy. The corporations that currently control the Internet market in Seattle won’t give up without a fight and will temporarily lower prices and run an extensive PR campaign to undercut efforts in setting up Seattle City Broadband (or whatever we might call it). But their high prices, spotty service, and low customer satisfaction are what led us to this point to begin with.

Seattle is known nationwide as a center of innovation, creativity, and technology and yet we are falling behind smaller cities as they move forward with municipal broadband systems that deliver high speeds with reasonable prices and the promise of service, whether you live in a high or low-income neighborhood. The time is now. The longer that we delay, the more studies that the City commissions, the farther behind we fall as a city and the further behind we leave those without access to internet. In order to push the Mayor and the current City Council to take action, we will need Seattleites from across the city to demand action. Join Upgrade Seattle and contact the mayor’s office and city council members to let them know Seattle is ready for municipal broadband.

Previously, we've heard from candidates running in Positions Nine and Eight and District Seven.

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