Morning Fizz

Freshman City Council Members Pick Up Key Committee Assignments

Transit nerd Rob Johnson lands plum assignment.

By Josh Feit December 21, 2015

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1. I was on KPLU's week in review news panel on Saturday talking about the week's most underreported stories. My pick: Governor Jay Inslee's McCleary task force met last week to deal with the state supreme court's McCleary order holding the state in contempt for not fully funding education. And: Exactly four months after the court’s order—which fines the state $100,000 a day—the group, one Democrat and one Republican from each chamber, remained adrift with no solution in sight.

While the state has put an extra $2.5 billion into K–12 education since the McCleary ruling and is on track to fully funding transportation costs, basic maintenance, all-day kindergarten, and shrinking K–3 class sizes, two big pieces outlined in McCleary remain: teacher compensation, which is estimated at another $5 billion, and taking local districts off the hook—to the tune of $1 billion—for a state responsibility.

There’s also the voter-approved initiative demanding that the state shrink class sizes up through the 12th grade, not just K–3. That policy change is estimated to cost another $5 billion, though, having passed on the voters’ initiative, that piece isn’t on the McCleary work plan. Meanwhile, the GOP (and some Democrats) are focusing on charters instead.

A footnote on KPLU: While it was a touch sad to be taping what may be their final week in review panel, there’s actually hope. KPLU got news on Friday that UW, which operates KUOW, was holding off on buying out KPLU (and shutting down its news operations) to give a public buyer more time to step up an save the station.

2. The city council announced the new committee chair assignments on Friday, and whoa, incoming freshman, District Four (U District, Roosevelt, Wedgwood) council member Rob Johnson, got a plum assignment: the land use committee. The PLUZ committee, as it's called (planning, land use, and zoning) oversees the crux of municipal government—zoning development—and has been in the news nonstop for the past several years featuring debates over pod apartments, upzones, parking requirements, infill development, and affordable housing.

Sorry NIMBYs, but Johnson—who emerged 10 years ago fighting for light rail through the Roosevelt neighborhood instead of along I-5—is the guy who told us during our endorsement interviews (which we did during all the controversy over single family zoning last summer) that he disagreed with mayor Ed Murray's decision to take single family zones out off the table for new development. In fact, he went as far to say triplexes and duplexes should be in the mix.

From our Johnson endorsement:

He emphatically told us he was disappointed in Mayor Murray’s decision to forego additional density in single family neighborhoods; conversely, most of the candidates we interviewed said the mayor shouldn’t have proposed such a radical idea in the first place.

As for Johnson, he took a cell phone picture of a triplex that had been grandfathered into a single family zone in his district and started showing it around to skeptics while he was doorbelling to try and push the density conversation. Johnson reports that about half the people he talked to were “superexcited and ready to go” on the idea of filling in “the missing middle of duplexes and triplexes. I think that missing voice” didn’t get reported in the press, he says.

Johnson ran as the transit guy, but if you think about it (and planning nerd Johnson does), transportation is actually a subset of land use in the city's planning policy outline. This is a huge win for urbanists who were also getting increasingly frustrated with current chair Mike O'Brien's lean away from density. 

Here's the full list of assignments with another incoming freshman, District One (West Seattle) freshman council member Lisa Herbold (another PubliCola endorsed candidate) also scoring a perfect, and appropriate, match for her brand of lefty populist politics: civil rights.

From our Herbold endorsement:

Herbold will be an alert SPD watchdog. Long before the Department of Justice’s sweeping court order forced the SPD to address excessive force and biased policing, Herbold spotted systemic problems and was fighting for greater police accountability at the legislative level. As Licata’s lead staffer, Herbold (city hall code name “Council Member Herbold”) helped establish an independent police oversight auditor position and fought for the public’s right to unredacted police files.

Social justice has become a trendy buzzword, but Herbold was using a race and class lens to reform regressive city policy—like the city’s old car impound ordinance and its nightlife regulations—long before hashtag politics were in play.

3. In other noteworthy 2015 city council election follow up: Incoming District Five (North Seattle) freshman, Debora Juarez, hired her former campaign trail opponent Mercedes Elizalde as one of her legislative staffers.

Elizalde, a staffer with the Seattle Low Income Housing Institute for the past three years, was a critics' pick on the campaign trail.

For those (me) who think Kshama Sawant fell far short of electing her slate, Elizalde (Juarez's new engagement and policy strategist) is sure to nudge the council from the behind the scenes in decidedly lefty direction.   

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