Fighting the greens-developers juggernaut

The election draws sharp lines between the density coalition and the neighborhood-populist candidates led by Nick Licata. In the Mayor's race, the former has a champion in Mike McGinn and the latter is most embraced by Joe Mallahan.
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Joe Mallahan, a candidate out of nowhere

The election draws sharp lines between the density coalition and the neighborhood-populist candidates led by Nick Licata. In the Mayor's race, the former has a champion in Mike McGinn and the latter is most embraced by Joe Mallahan.

I just got through reading a host of candidate ratings, questionnaires, blogs, and endorsements from various groups around town. It's enough to make George Orwell (and me) laugh and cry.

You've got groups who make up "FUSE," a self-proclaimed "progressive" coalition endorsing corporate candidates like Sally Bagshaw and Jesse Israel. Both candidates, especially Bagshaw, are bankrolled by downtown, Paul Allen, and real estate interests. Given who they've ignored, FUSE has only demonstrated with its endorsements just how out of touch they are with the Seattle political scene.

Then you've got the Cascade Bicycle Club (CBC) endorsing Mayor Greg Nickels, Israel, and Bagshaw simply because they blindly support Paul Allen's agenda, including the Mayor's Mercer Corridor Plan. Maybe one one-hundredth of the $200 million Mercer plan will go towards bike and pedestrian improvements; the rest will pour concrete for cars and make congestion worse in that area, especially for bikes. With those dollars we could add bike lanes to every city arterial with enough left to paint the lanes in gold leaf. Yet, mysteriously, to these folks, Mercer is a litmus test.

Mainstream environmental groups like the Washington Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club are opposing candidates (or not endorsing them, such as David Bloom) simply because they don't toe the line for a pro-density-at-all-costs agenda. The limousine enviros support candidates like Mike O'Brien who oppose use of developer fees that would require developers to share in the costs of growth or replace housing they remove. O'Brien told the 43rd Dem's such fee requirements would impair a developer's ability to build in Seattle. Of course, we've heard this position articulated by the Master Builders for years. Now suddenly (and depressingly) it is embraced by folks like O'Brien who paint the old nostrum in a green patina.

By the way, incumbent Nick Licata (who has supported a green agenda for years), and candidates Miller (who just helped save a large old grove of trees from the chainsaw) and Bloom (no slouch on enviro issues himself), do support use of developer impact fees. Miller says it must be complemented with a permitting process that is more streamlined. Rusty Williams also supports impact fees as does Bobby Forch. Robert Rosencranz and Jordan Royer predictably oppose them while other candidates are not on record on the issue yet.

Publicola recently tossed out the word "marxist" to suggest how "progressive" O'Brien was on issues. Perhaps they meant Groucho not Karl? Other than his opposition to the tunnel option for Viaduct relacement, O'Brien hasn't said anything that would suggest he's at all progressive. In this town, he's a corporate liberal and mainstream as they come. He'd fit right in with our current get-along-and-go-along Council.

And the same can be said of McGinn in the Mayor's race, and council candidates Sally Bagshaw, and Jessie Israel. I also see nothing in these folks to suggest they give one iota about the question of economic and racial justice and how that fits into the public policy debate. In fact, as far as I can tell, there's been very little discussion at all around this fundamental question: What would the candidates do to overcome poverty, homelessness, and lack of low cost housing in our city?

Candidates like Bloom and Licata do get specific on how to address poverty and inequality when the issue comes up. They've called for (and made a career out advocating for) more police accountability, repealing the Sidran laws, redirecting more of the city budget from downtown to our neighborhoods, supporting tent city, and protecting liveable-wage jobs. The party line from candidates like Bagshaw, Israel, Rosencranz, and Royer is: "I support the housing levy." Well thank goodness for that but who doesn't in this town?

Bloom, Miller and Licata support the levy too, but each went a step further, calling for the vast bulk of levy funds to reach down to continue to serve the poorest of the poor rather than folks with $65,000 incomes (80 percent of area median income), as Mayor Nickels would have preferred. Royer, Bagshaw, Israel, Rosencranz, and O'Brien also are more inclined to prefer giving away incentives (meaning our tax dollars) to promote still more market rate or near market development — espousing "trickle down" nostrums that would make Ronald Reagan (and my old Econ 101 prof) very proud indeed.

Now it's the so-called "greens" who are carrying the freight for big business. Candidates who support tree protections in our city and managed and responsible levels of growth, stream preservation, and housing replacement requirements are automatically typecast as NIMBY's. (Israel goes further accusing Licata of being obstructionist or a naysayer because right now he's the only councilmember who regularly stands up to the pro-developer crowd).

The pseudo-greens also cast the debate in not so subtle ways as an intergenerational clash. You're not hip if you call for limits on runaway growth in our city and ask developers to pay their share of the infrastructure costs.

Or you are called myopic. That's what mayoral candidate Mike McGinn called Knute Berger when, in a recent Crosscut column, Berger said that a green agenda must include measures to preserve our historic character and older buildings. Painting the issue as an either/or debate, McGinn (like his supporters at the Stranger and Publicola) believes that density must be maxed out in Seattle in order to prevent sprawl. Record levels of growth in Seattle certainly have not contained sprawl. The argument just provides more cover for developers.

When the Displacement Coalition joined forces with Southend neighborhoods to turn back state legislation that would have mandated 50 unit per acre mandates around rail stations (in areas at 3-5 units per acre now where literally several thousand low income families are people of color live), McGinn chided the coalition and said they were ill-informed about the value of "compact development." But this wasn't about compact development already being planned for that area with neighborhood support. It was about a bill mandating too much growth destroying low cost housing and displacing hundreds of longtime residents (and trees and open space).

There is such a thing as a poly-centerered approach to growth that more evenly clusters or distributes growth around the region and provides adequate funding for buses serving those areas. That's a better alternative to sprawl or cramming all growth in Seattle. That's the green way to get people out of their cars. But it's not even recognized by the pro-growth enviro wing. And these are the folks that call the neighborhood movement "doctrinaire."

In the Mayor's race, I'm disappointed that Joe Mallahan supports replacing the Viaduct with a tunnel. McGinn is the only mayoral candidate to oppose the tunnel, and in this instance he sides with grassroots groups and the general public. (I co-chaired the No Tunnel Alliance, and agree with that position.) On the other hand, Mallahan is closer to the neighborhoods and grassroots on all the other key issues affecting this city and especially around the debate over density and its equity and justice implications.

Mallahan has said city residents should not absorb tunnel cost overruns and that we must keep freight moving. Ramps should be added to better serve Ballard and West Seattle residents. He's also the only candidate to raise concerns about Paul Allen's plans in South Lake Union, saying he would oppose draining away bus service dollars for street car expansion, and opposing Mayor Nickel's Mercer corridor plans. In meeting with citizen activists, he has said he'd reopen a door long ago slammed shut by Nickels (and that would stay shut if Jan Drago won). Mallahan also says he would expand funding for the neighborhood matching program. He's clearly the only real choice in that contest.

Most importantly in the City Council races, I look for candidates in the races with a nuanced approach to density and growth, such as Licata, Miller, and Bloom, who don't just blindly support development. If Bobby Forch or Rusty Williams makes it past the primary rather than Miller in that race, they too could carry this ball.

These are the true greens and true progressives in this race. Their hallmark is a belief in balancing growth with the need to preserve the qualities in our community that make this city liveable and affordable.


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