Morning Fizz

Friday LIKES & DISLIKES: City Council Position Eight

Tim Burgess, Jon Grant, and John Roderick review the week's news

By Josh Feit July 3, 2015

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

For today’s second installment of "City Council Candidate LIKES & DISLIKES," we asked the three at-large Position Eight frontrunners, city council incumbent Tim Burgess, tenants' rights advocate Jon Grant, and rock musician and podcast celebrity John Roderick, to pick some (local) news from the past week and tell us exactly how they feel about it.

Footnote: We DISLIKE that Burgess and Roderick failed to follow directions by both choosing a state-level news item for one of their entries; A) the candidates were specifically asked to choose city news and B) it's too easy to Monday morning quarterback our hapless state legislature. (Burgess also chose three items—we asked for two—but given that he barely made the word count, we included all three.)


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Image: Brandon Hill

Second-term council member and now council president Tim Burgess, seen as the leader of the city council's conservative bloc (mind you, that's on a council that includes a socialist, a former Sierra Club leader, and Nick Licata), has championed progressive causes like Seattle's preschool funding measure, teamed up with Licata on paid sick leave, and supports a linkage fee on developers to fund affordable housing. His social conservative reputation largely stems from his failed first-term effort to pass an ordinance, condemned by civil rights and homeless advocates, that would have cracked down on panhandling. It also didn't help that he nudged Mike O'Brien's recent push for publicly funded elections off the ballot. However, he recently teamed up with O'Brien (and Licata again) calling on the Department of Planning and Development to come up with a new plan for dealing with displacement in its longterm growth strategy. Take it away Mr. Burgess:

1. I LIKE the unanimous Council vote for the Move Seattle levy—a critically needed set of investments in the mobility of our city.  From improved pedestrian safety and bike capacity to basic roadway improvements, this levy will make a real difference in the lives of all Seattle residents, in every neighborhood. With Sound Transit Three likely to be on the ballot next year delivering future light rail to West Seattle and Ballard, real, transit-driven traffic relief is coming for Seattle.

2. I also LIKE the White House conference on police reform and alternatives to arrest I am currently attending—inspiring and proven measures to restore trust and accountability in urban policing.  Seattle's very successful Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program is getting top billing as an innovative success. It's yet another example of Seattle leading the nation in progressive initiatives.

 3. I DISLIKE the failure of State Senate Republicans to move—and in fact hold hostage— efforts by the governor and legislative Democrats to address carbon pollution and climate change.  With record high temperatures in Seattle, early property-damaging fires, and a dangerous drought threatening all parts of our state, it is time for real action on pricing and cutting carbon pollution. My Republican friends should read Pope Francis on climate change and the moral imperative that we address it head on.


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Jon Grant, the recent executive director of the Tenants Union, is running on a left wing platform that's pretty indistinguishable from council phenomenon Kshama Sawant's own to do list. He wants rent control and supports stiff linkage fees; for his campaign kickoff, Grant had New York City's famous "The Rents too Damn High" candidate Jimmy McMillan in town. Grant came out of the gate with an issue of his own, shoring up foreclosure protections, though that led to this PubliCola story: "Council Candidate Advocating Foreclosure Protections Bought Foreclosed Home." Grant is a dissident member of the mayor's housing affordability task force, criticizing the group for failing to take rent control seriously. Take it away Mr. Grant

 1. I LIKE the call for an audit on the city’s Department of Planning & Development (DPD) after news they let the massive 50-story R.C. Hedreen Hotel development off the hook from paying into the city’s affordable housing fund, to the tune of $3 million dollars.

The City’s incentive zoning program is one of the few tools available to require private developers to pay fees toward affordable housing, which is desperately needed given our housing crisis. After UNITE HERE Local 8 and housing advocates caught the eye-popping figure, the DPD retracted the original permit for the hotel which is to be built downtown on the lot of the old Greyhound bus station. On learning of the city’s failed oversight Council Members Mike O’Brien and Kshama Sawant called for an audit of the entire incentive zoning program to learn just how prevalent these multimillion dollar oversights occur.

In my humble opinion, after years of advocating for more affordable housing from private developers, I will not be surprised if the city’s audit turns up a fair amount of dirt. For example, it wasn’t too long ago low income tenants and the Tenants Union uncovered an illegally extended permit for the 400 million dollar Civic Square development downtown, on the site of the old Public Safety building. The city took an entire block of publicly-owned land and handed it off to private developers like Triad to build million dollar condos, with no mandated affordable housing onsite. Even though the permit had been expired for two years, the developer was not required to renew it and therefore the city intentionally decided to not renegotiate the use of the land to demand more affordable housing.

The root of the issue is that any regulatory body inevitably becomes too acclimated to the business interests of the companies they are supposed to regulate. This happens at all levels of government, and how planners at the DPD start to see the logic of structuring a permit in such a way to create efficiencies for the developer to the detriment of the community. It is excellent the city council is serving the role of being the watchdog for the watchdogs. However, the reality is that only a handful of these cases become known when community advocates shine a light on them.

The city needs its equivalent for a “Community Police Commission” for development. One idea is to form a Public Benefits Administration that has the authority to review permits for large scale projects to ensure the maximum value is being returned to the community in the form of living wages jobs and affordable housing. Until we have an oversight group that works in tandem with our planning department, we will continue to be denied millions of dollars in development fees that could be making Seattle a far more affordable place to live. Of course, the political will must first be found on the city council to make that happen.

2. I DISLIKE that nurses and healthcare workers are getting short changed by Swedish-Providence Hospital, an institution that made $110 million in profit in 2014, and whose CEO was paid $1.9 million in 2013. Despite those profits, workers are falling into debt from inadequate health plans with high deductibles, ironically being sent to collections by the same medical institutions where they offer health care services to the rest of us. They work unreasonable hours due to chronic understaffing since the hospital will not fund competitive wages or benefits to attract new applicants.

I LIKE that workers said “enough is enough” and held eight pickets in one day this Wednesday, drawing in about a 1,000 healthcare workers and supporters for one giant picket in front of Swedish Hospital on First Hill. After three months of negotiations, the  SEIU 1199NW workers' demands—continuation of the higher quality benefits they had before the Providence merger with Swedish—had been falling on deaf ears. Sharing their stories of financial hardship, workers took the stage Wednesday along with a number of elected leaders such as King County Council Member Larry Gossett, who lead the crowd in organizing chants.

This is a growing trend of our community hospitals being consolidated into the bodies of larger corporations and chains. The potential impacts on our health are substantial as decisions for hospitals are increasingly being made in the board room rather than the bedside. It is critical that elected leaders stand in solidarity with healthcare workers to ensure not just fair treatment for workers, but also quality health services for the broader community.


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Image: Joshua Huston

Indie rock front man John Roderick, a member of the city's music commission, is a Wired magazine-style green who is pushing for Seattle to build its own inner-city rail system (along with hyping some other fanciful stuff like salt batteries and funiculars.) Roderick, who's campaigning as an advocate for the city's arts community, has also been vocal about the need for a more transparent and accountable police force. Take it away Mr. Roderick.

1. I LIKE that council member Nick Licata hosted an event introducing city council candidates to members of the creative community. In the almost three months I've been campaigning, and at more than a dozen public forums, I have never heard a single question addressing Seattle's cultural life put to all the candidates. Nick's event put creative and arts people in the room with candidates, and the wide variety of Seattle's culture-making community was on display. People from film, music and dance, from museums and fine arts, from the universities and public schools, from non-profits and big media companies, all were there to remind us that the arts are threaded through every aspect of civic life. I heard the same refrain around the room: now that Nick Licata is retiring, who will be our patron on the council?

Seattle’s government can't continue to treat its creative communities as afterthoughts culturally or economically. Seattle has one of the most vibrant arts communities in America, yet my opponent’s political consultant was quoted recently as saying that arts advocacy is “a very limited platform and seems out of touch.” Seattle’s professional political class is so quick to treat “arts advocacy” as a superfluous pet issue. Yet according to a 2012 Arts & Economic Prosperity study, “nonprofit arts and culture are a $447.6 million industry in Seattle. One that supports 10,807 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $38.2 million in local and state government revenue.”

And the best thing about investing in the arts is how well those investments multiply! As Seattle filmmakers Lynn Shelton and Megan Griffiths noted in April, Washington’s undersized Motion Picture Competitiveness Program has generated a 375 percent return on investment since 2007, providing jobs for actors, technical employees, caterers, venues, etc. Locally, the city just launched the Work-Readiness program through the chronically underfunded Office of Arts and Culture, which provides arts learning opportunities for about a dozen youth recruited through the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. We can and should expand these programs, and embrace the arts both as an economic driver and a cultural imperative.

When city officials minimize supporting culture in the city they represent, there is a clear need for new representation. I LOVE that Nick Licata has been a dependable patron of the arts community on City Council. Now is the time to elect a champion for the arts to carry that torch.

 2. I DISLIKE the concessions made last week in order to pass the state transportation bill. Governor Inslee swallowed the so called “poison pill” provision stipulating that, if he tries to institute clean fuel standards to reduce the total amount of carbon emission by 10 percent over 10 years, all money dedicated to transit, bicycle infrastructure, and pedestrian infrastructure would instead be spent on roads. This is a typically cynical ploy by oil company-funded Republican legislators to gut climate change legislation, and the governor caved.

I am a huge supporter of other aspects of this bill, such as expanding Sound Transit and building reliable transit to connect our neighborhoods, but this package does not go far enough in protecting the environment. We need to create buy-in from businesses and residents, to spur innovation for green energy technologies, and create new markets for a green economy in Washington. A low carbon fuel standard would set a great precedent, and play an important role in setting these changes in motion.

 While I understand the argument in support of the package—that we got a lot of what we asked for—I DISLIKE the fact that climate action still seems to be the first thing politicians will trade away in a negotiation. Even a Democrat-controlled legislature cut similar deals, linking transit to policies that cause our carbon emissions to rise. It is as though our leaders still think that climate change might go away on its own.

Earlier this month the University of Washington's Climate Impacts Group released a report that predicted “daily flooding” in Georgetown and South Park by 2104 if we continue emitting carbon this way. Warnings like that pop up all the time, yet our elected leaders keep faltering in their resolve. Truly meaningful environmental legislation gets taken off the table only when those we trust to advocate for it allow it to become negotiable, and once again in this session the environment lost out.

How much longer do we have to wait for the political climate to be just right so that legislators stop negotiating as though catastrophic levels of fossil fuel pollution were just another line-item in a transportation bill? When will they finally start taking aggressive action to stop a disaster? A reduction in greenhouse gasses is no longer a symbolic gesture to be frittered away. Our economic and environmental future depend on it.

Last week, we heard from citywide Position Nine candidates Bill Bradburd and Lorena González.

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