1. Seattle Times writer Danny Westneat has a column today (via Seattle City Hall Insight blogger Kevin Schofield ) pointing out that lefty groups are basically writing legislation for the Seattle City Council these days—just as the right wing ALEC has been outed for doing at the state level.
At the chin-stroking level, it’s definitely a nice reality check for our uniformly progressive town. (I made a similar macro level critique about the possibility of the left's unchecked influence two weeks ago on KUOW.)
But let's not go overboard.
Here's the deal: Back in June, SCCInsight's Schofield caught the ACLU and Columbia Legal Services in one instance, and Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Heart of America Northwest in another, attempting to micromanage resolutions with council members Lisa Herbold and Mike O’Brien and council member Sawant respectively doing those groups’ bidding.
It’s easy for us to look the other way when the advocacy groups are ones we like (and I do like the work that ACLU and Columbia Legal Services does), but the power that they are accumulating is just as corrupting. When the day comes that they push the City Council for something not in Seattle’s best interests, and our Council members don’t feel empowered to push back, we will be sorry that we looked the other way this time.
Smart stuff; though the ACLU/CLS resolution on the Jungle flopped. So, there is that reality check.
Westneat points to more recent examples. First, in what has been tagged for weeks now as “The ACLU Legislation,” the ACLU and CLS came back again with a pre-fabbed proposal to regulate how the city shuts down unauthorized and homeless encampments. And second, there’s a Sawant bill to regulate tenant move-in fees that’s being pushed by social justice group Washington Community Action Network. In the latter case, a WACAN lobbyist sat at the table with the six council members in chambers and weighed in like a lawmaker.
And I’d add the ride share unionization legislation that council member O’Brien passed. That was written by the Teamsters.
A couple of thoughts. It's not unusual for (mainstream) advocates to sit at the table. Check out any of the recent discussions on homelessness, for example. The mayor himself had advocates from the United Way at the council table just a few weeks ago advocating for “the mayor’s” Pathway Home proposal.
Which brings up another point: It’s not just the council, it’s the mayor who operates this way too.
For example, the recent secured scheduling legislation was pushed by the union allied group Working Washington; they came carrying model legislation. Both Mayor Murray and the council members Herbold and Lorena Gonzalez worked with Working Washington to pass a secured scheduling bill. But certainly, business stakeholders were brought in, and the city wrote its own bill. But, let’s be honest, the issue came directly from Working Washington. It was changed substantively, but not to WW’s disliking.
This is how legislation happens. For example, Working Washington is also pushing legislation to regulate Airbnb. Council member Tim Burgess has taken it up for them. But the proposal is getting rewritten in the legislative process. And as for Westneat's ACLU/CLS example on encampment legislation? That proposal is also being changed substantively.
Herbold, an ACLU/CLS ally, has stated explicitly that the proposal needed to change. Her correspondence with constituents, since mid September (the bill was introduced in early September) says this: "The bill we have before us is not perfect and significant changes will need to be made before final passage." Not surprisingly, legislators are currently amending the proposal, in concert with the mayor’s office, to make it less permissive to public camping by adding stronger definitions for the places that are “unsuitable.”
And as a sweeping generalization, the criticism blurs the leigt work council is doing working with communities on the ground to bring issues to the fore. Sawant deserves serious credit for helping the Block the Bunker movement jam an unchecked new proposal for an expensive police station. And council member Rob Johnson deserves credit for supporting Capitol Hill Housing's innovative urbanist proposals around parking and street activizization—and not without the expected and fair push back from other lawmakers.
And ultimately, let’s not pretend that groups like Working Washington and Washington CAN and the ACLU don’t represent largely underrepresented and marginalized people whose time at the table is long overdue.
2. The even-keeled Municipal League Foundation endorsed ST3 yesterday.
Their sane endorsement is worth quoting in full:
Although the cost for households ($29 billion in new taxes over the planning period) sounds large and is significant, it is smaller compared to the large typical annual cost of owning and operating a motor vehicle ($3,000-$4,000 a year for fuel alone) or the projected losses from time spent in gridlock (not to mention reduced aggravation) that will accompany truly region-wide reliable mobility.
Opponents of the measure raise legitimate concerns about the cost and appropriateness of adding 62 miles of light rail system to our region. Bus rapid transit (BRT) systems are often cited as a cheaper alternative that can be more quickly implemented. BRT systems, however, do not always offer exclusive rights-of-way and the escape from congestion that light rail does.
Sound Transit has responsibly managed significant public works projects and has earned the region's trust as a result. Should the voters of our region provide the significant commitment to extending that trust by authorizing this proposition, the agency should be very careful not to jeopardize that authorization with a lack of transparency or misuse of public resources.
There is no perfect solution to this region's transit challenges and, to their credit, proponents of ST3 have not presented the plan as such. Four decades ago, we rejected Forward Thrust, and this region reaped the whirlwind. We now have the opportunity to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.