Uncategorized

Nikkita Oliver exclusive interview with “4 to Explore”

On May 8, 2017, “4 to Explore” conducted a phone interview of Ms. Nikkita Oliver, one of the prominent candidates for Seattle Mayor.

Ballots will be mailed mid-July 2017 and are due by Tuesday, August 1st for the initial election. The August election will decide which top two candidates face each other in a November run-off. For all candidates running, CLICK HERE.

I was going to wait until our Summer edition of “4 to Explore” to publish this interview, but am publishing it now because Ms. Oliver was not able to attend the Northeast District Council (NEDC) mayoral candidates forum on June 8. Many residents of Northeast Seattle are still probably wondering, “Who is Nikkita Oliver?” Once again, 4 to Explore is there!

Here is the full transcript of that interview.

———————

PRIORITIES: What do you want to accomplish in your first 100 days in office as Mayor?

Nikkita Oliver:  The first thing – the most important thing — is a comprehensive housing plan. This affordable housing and homelessness crisis that we’re in…needs a plan that has a lot of foresight and a vision to address both immediate and long term concerns: Building housing, addressing rent stabilization, speculative capital, [and] a progressive income tax. Some will take years; some can be immediate. There are city properties we could leverage for transitional housing. We need to have conversations with people in encampments to ask about solutions that will work for them.

Our city is at a really important time. Housing is connected to many other things: transportation, human services, revenue, density and development.

One thing our city is really missing is a long term vision of where we want to go.

 

NEIGHBORHOODS: Last summer, Mayor Murray stopped supporting the 13 Neighborhood District Councils that represent every neighborhood in Seattle. Do you plan on restoring that support and/or the District Council roles in distributing information to community councils, making recommendations for the city budget, and making recommendations for grants for neighborhood projects or will you keep his current policy in place?

http://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/editorials/city-council-should-challenge-mayor-murray-on-neighborhood-councils/

Nikkita Oliver: I want to say first that community input is incredibly invaluable. Without community input, bureaucracy just functions from top down. And so I deeply value hearing community voices, but also having community effectively impact what policy looks like not just in the making of policy but in the actual implementation of it. The neighborhood councils, while a good idea in some ways were inherently flawed because they did not necessarily reach across constituencies. Some of what we saw with the Councils were people have the time or the resources to invest in the District Councils. But the questions I think got asked about the Councils are who are the voices who are not there and why are they not participating. And so, while I do intend to have some sort of structure that creates very necessary and important space for neighborhoods and communities to directly to impact both policy development and implementation, I’m not sure going back to that model is going to be the most effective for the sort of input that our city most needs. I have been talking with some of the directors of different community centers and teen centers. We have a lot of very natural networks already built into our city that could be used as a way for communities to speak directly to the issues that most impact them and speak directly to policies and implementation. I think what’s necessary is pouring resources – the right resources – into those spaces and ensuring those become spaces where we’ve purposely and intentionally accessed community for that information. So how can we learn from what happened from the neighborhood model in terms of what populations are accessing those models and then how can we evolve it and use preexisting networks to build ones that actually gather across constituencies to build better policy and implementation. So, on the one hand, I do think the decision to reconsider what those Councils decisions look like was important on an equity level, I think not coming up with a plan that actually deals with the equity issue is problematic, so what I was trying to do with my office – there are so many community organizers in our city, we are such a lucky city, we have community organizers at every level from grass roots organizers to more nonprofit organizers to community center organizers. We have a lot of organizers. I think we need to figure out how we leverage relationships, which is something I have the skills to do, I am a grassroots organizer and I’ve worked with nonprofits, I’ve worked with community centers and so I have a ton of relationships to bring to the table to develop a more equitable way to ensure neighborhoods have direct connection to the Mayor’s office and I think that’s important. I think the other thing is,, as a Mayor, I will make myself accessible to communities. And that is about not simply doing town halls or “State of the City” addresses where I get to say and present my ideas, but it also means just going and sitting in spaces and listening to what communities are talking about and being available for the questions. And when I don’t know the answer to be willing to say I don’t know, but you know what I’m going to find the answers or I will work with you to find the answers. I think these are really important changes that we need around accountability, transparency, and ownership within our current government structure.

 

REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT and GENTRIFICATION:

  • During your campaign kickoff, you said, “We must stop giving developers a free ride…We have to counteract displacement…including our seniors — we have to take care of our seniors…Input must be included in a meaningful way…”  Tell us more about this.

Nikkita Oliver: When we look at how the grand bargain was developed, when we consider who was at the table, it was mostly people who have corporate interests. It didn’t necessarily include homeowners. It didn’t necessarily include renters. It didn’t necessarily include people who have been pushed out of our city those folks who are at the table getting to help make the decision. When I talked about meaningful input I mean going beyond hearing peoples’ voices and actually putting their ideas into effect, and allocating resources to those ideas. The grand bargain allows developers to come in and build without considering their impact upon our community, and without actually investing in our community.

We are seeing housing rates go up for a number of reasons, the market is shifting in a lot of ways, median income is increasing every year, lots of people are moving to our very beautiful city. As a result there is a huge demand for housing, and one problem with HALA and MHA is that it is dependent upon the private market meeting their needs while simultaneously not asking developers to actually really invest in the city they say they want to be in. So I think we need to look at a multifaceted response to the housing crisis which includes asking developers to invest more, because I firmly believe that they want to be here and they will often want to invest in our communities but it also means the City leveraging its resources to get involved in building housing and it means dealing with issues like speculative capital which are driving the market up.

So I think we need a multifaceted response, but also meeting with people who live in the zones that are single family zones. Folks who tend to get called things to NIMBY, which I think puts folks in a box that doesn’t actually knowledge their real concerns. Which are, I bought my home here, I invested here, and my hope was that I could live here and my children could live here for the next 30 to 40 years. And, if you are a senior who bought your home 30 years ago and you’re living on a fixed income and property taxes are going up each year, you are actually very likely to be pushed out of your home. And we have to consider what that means for someone who has spent their entire life working to have a place to live and a place to retire.

The flip side of that, we also have to deal with the fact that people are going to get paid to come into our city and with that means we need more density and we need more housing. Not just so that we can take the negative things that have happened in the market but also because we need to protect our environment to decrease the impact that we’re having on the environment. And so what I’m hoping we can do is come to a consensus around putting the density more equitably around our city but also doing it smartly nad, by smartly, I mean putting it in places that ecologically make sense, putting it in places that make sense transportation-wise, but also putting it in places that does not exacerbate the gentrification that’s already happened and [in places] that actually pushes back on the market to create place for people to move back to. So I think the developers who want to be in our city have a responsibility to our city and we need to willing to ask them to be accountable — responsibility as a part of our city.

When I talk about the progressive income tax, I’m actually talking about all of the Seattleites being willing to take on a piece of making our city the healthiest place possible. And I believe that, from our wealthiest Seattleites to our developers, that everybody wants to see that happen and we want to see our city be a healthy place for everybody – to be able to equitably live in a successful way. And that’s what a progressive Seattle looks like – a place where everyone invests at a level where they are able to invest in – because we are all going to be accountable and take ownership for creating a city that is accessible and is affordable.

I think that answers your question. That’s the vision. And I do think that it’s possible.

 

  • Do you support having real estate developers pay “Impact Fees” as allowed by State law to help to fund new schools, fire stations, and parks?

Nikkita Oliver: Absolutely. That infrastructure is essential to our city functioning well. It’s essential to the people who live in their buildings – to be able to live in a well –functioning city and I think that the developers are interested in having a city that functions well. And so impact fees are just a part of that. The linkage Fee – and the 20 to 25% around the linkage fee – or having that many affordable units in your building is also a part of that. These things are a part of ensuring that Seattle remains an affordable, successful place. But, like I said, we cannot depend on just the private market to do that. I think the City needs to get involved in leveraging its own resources in order to make sure we have enough affordable housing. And not just for people who are at the 60% AMI, but also people who are at the 30% AMI. 60% [AMI] is really our workforce housing and our teachers and we need to make sure our teachers can live here but we also want to be a icity that is affordable for our low income families and to ensure that those families can stay here. And that we have a well-rounded, equitable city.

(For more on Impact Fees, go here: http://alexpedersen.org/impact-fees-for-developers-can-boost-neighborhoods-and-schools/ )

 

RESPONSIVE GOVERNMENT: Some have criticized city government leaders for focusing too much on national issues instead of the basics of local government and/or to listening to interest groups instead of residents not involved in interest groups. What ideas do you have for making city government more responsive to its residents?

Nikkita Oliver: There are some national issues that have very real hyper-local impact. And I think those are the ones we should be focusing one. And I think the community that shows up at Council meetings. To me that’s organizing at the grassroots level and it does a great job brining those issues to the surface in our city and showing us how they connect tat the locatl level. And I think that, what responsive government looks like is hearing your residents when they are telling this issue at the national level is actually impacting me locally and I’m trying to show you where I need your as my local representative to be responsive to that locally. I think residents really can direct us and in seeing where at the national level we need to be responsive and really where the local connection is. I think it’s seeing where the local intersection is and being responsive there. And there are so many ways that we can do that. We have such a large refugee, immigrant, Muslim community that, under our current [presidential] Administration, is facing a lot of challenges and there are some incredible leaders in his community who can actually lead us about how locally we can do that in a way that doesn’t neglect our local government. When the national intersects with the local – that’s where it’s most important that we’re most responsive on those issues.

 

AFFORDABLE HOUSING: To produce new affordable housing, Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) relies on upzones that require real estate developers/investors to pay into a fund for affordable housing (or to build a percentage of the housing onsite). The Mayor calls this “Mandatory Housing Affordability” (MHA). Percentages that must be set-aside range from 2% downtown to 9% in the U District. The affordable housing does not need to be built in the same neighborhood where the fees are paid. Do you feel that the 2% set-aside for affordable housing downtown and the 9% set-aside in the U District were sufficient?

Nikkita Oliver:  No, I don’t think it’s sufficient. That’s an area where lots of students live and I don’t think it is enough set-aside to ensure that students can live by their school. When I think about 2% in [South Lake Union / downtown]. We have to look at, who can afford the 98% [of the housing units that is not affordable]? And who are we saying are the only 2% of folks who should be allowed to live there. That’s essentially what we’re saying. And we’re developing areas of the city for only certain income-brackets. When we look at 98% [of the housing units], only certain people are allowed to live here and only 2% of lower-income brackets can be here. I want to see more of our city to be more equitably accessible than that. South Lake Union is a beautiful area. Wouldn’t we want more of our families, more of our people to have access to that housing? And really what’s going to end up happening, the places where there are higher percentages of housing or where we are asking for higher percentages are places that are at the farthest reaches of the city. So, we’re saying that, if your lower income, the only place where we’re gonna make sure you have access to housing is farther out in the city. I think that’s problematic. I think we’re going to need to more equitably distribute the affordable housing so people who want to live closer into the city are able to do that because everyone deserves to have access to their city. And there are going to be people who want to live farther out or who want to live in neighborhoods that have a different type of cultural character and I want people to be able to choose to live in those areas in the city because that’s the area of the city that they like. But, right now, low income people don’t have a choice. If you don’t make enough money, you don’t get a choice on where you live in this city. And that is an economic equity issue that is racially and ethically unevenly distributed. When you look at whose median incomes are increasing at what rate, black and brown folks are at the lowest parts of those income increases. And so then it’s becoming racialized. So we’re also seeing the city become more and more segregated where the center of our city is whiter and wealthier and the farther reaches of our city are browner and lower income. And that’s a problem that’s starting to segregate the city.

 

HOMELESSNESS: While the reports from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (under President Obama) show a decrease in homelessness in many cities throughout the country, it has increased in Seattle and King County.

https://www.usich.gov/tools-for-action/ending-homelessness-our-progress-essential-strategies-and-the-work-ahead/

  • Why do you think homelessness is rising in Seattle while it is decreasing elsewhere?

Nikkita Oliver: I think it goes back to the economic, equity issue. And when we look at which communities are being impacted by that economic, equity issue and access issue, it is very particular communities – it is veterans, it’s black or brown communities, it’s people who are already working and who had families living paycheck to paycheck. There are a lot of families who are homeless in city – a lot of families who are constantly trying to find housing because of the constant rent increases. There are a lot of veterans. There are also a lot of mental health needs in our city. And so all of these things I think contribute to rising issues around homelessness. We have a major human services gap. And so when you have this kind of economic equity issue that we’re seeing here in Seattle, where the gap is not being met…and there’s not enough housing, period. The open housing rate [vacancy rate], the last I read, I think it was like 2% or 3%. There’s just not a lot of housing to choose from. And so people end up homeless.

And homelessness is defined in a lot of ways – it’s not just encampments. When we look at how many young people in our schools who are homeless, which has increased exponentially, it’s actually a better indicator of what homelessness looks like in your city. Because sometimes people are houseless. Multiple families living in one unit because that’s all they could find. So the rate of homelessness in Seattle is actually much higher than what we’re told. And I think it’s the economic gap and the lack of accessibility. I think we really need a holistic strategy. We need to think about jobs and opportunity. We need to think about educational opportunities. We need to think about housing. At one point in time, Boeing worked well with the city and our educational institutions to ensure there were pathways to jobs in Boeing, that there were pathways for low income folks, the people who might otherwise wouldn’t have accessibility to find ways to get into work. And when we look at hour our city is growing, many of the jobs that are coming here are being filled by people who don’t’ live in the city. So I think the city needs to figure out how we broker relationships with Amazon and Microsoft and Google to ensure that our young people who are here have solid trajectories into those jobs and that our families have trajectories into those jobs.

And another thing that is being over-looked, is the impact of – we live in a high access to information city – and a lot of formerly incarcerated people, people with records in our city are having a very hard time getting housing because there is so much information on people’s backgrounds now available to landlords. Because there’s such a high demand for housing, formerly incarcerated people who have done their time. And based on the way the justice system is supposed to be set up, because now they’ve paid back their debt to society. But a lot of them are being overlooked for housing. So I think that’s also contributing to why we’re seeing so many homeless and houseless people. It’s overall an equity issue that is very multifaceted — everything from access to housing and jobs and opportunity.

 

FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY:  Do you have any ideas for reducing city government expenses / finding savings?

Nikkita Oliver:  Yeah, absolutely. We have a huge budget. $5.6 billion. We spend a lot of money on courts and police. And, in the court area, when it comes to Seattle Municipal Court. I don’t know how much you know about “quality of life crime”; these are crimes that are things that people get criminalized for simply because they’re poor. Say you get a parking ticket that you’re not able to pay and, over time, that turns into a suspended license. And then you’re not able to pay the ticket, the suspended license and then maybe you get a ticket for [driving with] a suspended license – over time these turn into criminal issues that a person was not able to address in the first place because they did not have the money to pay the ticket in the first place. And we’re becoming a city where cash-poor folks have to drive. If you’re being pushed to the far reaches of the city and transportation is not moving in lock step with development, then you’re driving and it’s very easy to get a ticket in Seattle. So figuring out how we cannot prosecute “quality of life crimes” is huge. I heard a story about young homeless person who was charged with stealing because they had thrown their trash away in a private dumpster. I heard a story of someone charged with stealing electricity at the library for plugging their phone in. Regardless of whether or not those charges resulted in conviction, just the charging process, and calling that person into court, filing of the paperwork, adds up to a substantial amount of money over time. I think sweeps [of unauthorized homeless encampments] — the number of sweeps we do, how we do the sweeps; if provided more services and services that people in encampments wanted and provided trash, water, places to dispose of needles to those encampments instead of ding these constant sweeps and focused on having 24/7 storage, and getting transitional housing together. We could actually decrease the amount we spend on sweeps and transfer it over to human services. When it comes to “quality of life crimes” those funds could go into a lot of other places to ensure that those people don’t end up in those situations because if we keep out those cycles of poverty, we’re actually going to make our city healthier – those are two places that we could cut.

Also, I know that [Mayor] Murray had proposed hiring 200 more police. I could think of so many other things to do with that money that would actually decrease crime in our city and increase safety for everybody. I think it’s about looking at the places where we are spending money in ways that we don’t have to. Not only would it be more effective but, in the long run, it would be basically more responsible and amount to more efficient processes that benefit humans over systems.

 

EDUCATION: Do you support expanding the high-quality Seattle Preschool Program so that it is available to all 4 year olds (universal preschool) and, if so, how would you pay for it and how quickly would you make it universal?

Nikkita Oliver:  Absolutely. Preschool is incredibly valuable for the development of every young person in our city. It’s also important for families to be able to become economically stable. If they know that there is high-quality preschool available to them. I think, in providing that, I think we need to think about how we pay our child care workers. We do not ensure that our child care workers are paid at the rate that they deserve. And if we’re saying that preschool education is important, we need to make sure we take care of our workers so that they effectively take care of our children. But, in the long run, supporting high quality preschool for all people in our city, is going to make our city much healthier. 

 

EXPERIENCE: When Mayor Murray was running for Mayor, he was criticized for his lack of experience as an executive running a large organization. Can you speak to your own experience and management style?

Nikkita Oliver: I think what people fail to acknowledge about the role of an executive or anyone in the executive branch is that they’re only as good as their team. While they are the face of the decision and make the ultimate decision on a lot of things, our mayor is dependent upon having the most brilliant team possible because delegation is essential to running our city. Over 10,000 employees and a $5.6 billion budget, the mayor cannot know everything but [she] can know exactly, who they put in what places to do what jobs and can know that each of those people have the credentials and have the work experience to make that happen. You have to be able to trust your team. If you don’t trust your team what you’re going to end up doing is micromanaging your team. And people just simply don’t function well when they’re micromanaged. The system doesn’t function well when the trust isn’t there. You know, I’ve managed large teams before. I am very well versed in law, policy, and analysis. You don’t get through law school and a master degree at the same time, while working multiple jobs and not know how to manage some things. But I’ve also done a lot of work on systems transformation and focusing specifically on how you can systems more humanistic and more equitable. And that happens by ensuring you have a quality team around you that knows how to use evidence-based data that produces policies that, when implemented, actually amount to the sort of changes that you’re striving for. And that has to work in lock-step with having very strong responsive, dynamic communication with your constituencies – across constituencies, being able to acknowledge equity issues that might exist there.

So I think part of what I’ve been criticized for is that I’m not a career politician. I haven’t worked as a legislator or been on City Council. But what I have done is work closely with Councilmembers, worked closely with legislators, worked closed with elected on how do you develop ordinances and policies that work with the grassroots community. So what my skill actually is is knowing how to bridge the gap between community and government, but the thing that is essential for an executive to have is how do you take all of these different constituencies, how do you work with the legislative branch and the judicial branch in your city in a way that actually moves toward a consensus government that amounts to positive impact at the human level. If systems don’t work for humans, then those systems don’t work.

And part of what we’re seeing right now is the mismanagement is really a micromanagement issue. That there’s not enough people that work with the current mayor’s office who have the knowledge, the necessary knowledge to do their jobs – they also don’t have the trust. They haven’t been given – the leash is too short. So my style of leadership and my style of management is really about ensuring I have the right people doing the right job with the right resources – and then trusting them to do that job and having a process of accountability and very high expectations and goals and metrics and vision to make that happen. And when those goals, those metrics, and that vision is actually served or not met, then you have to move into a conversation of accountability, which we are lacking in our current government structure. So that would be, that is my management style.

CONCLUSION: Is there anything else you’d like to add, specifically for the residents of Northeast Seattle?

Nikkita Oliver: The only other thing I’d want to say to the people of Northeast Seattle: I want the communities there to know that I’ve heard quite a few people tell me how, especially the upper regions of our city feel at times they get ignored. And particularly around things like certain types of infrastructure — sidewalks, streets — human services and I think that is a place where our city absolutely has to grow because urban sprawl is happening and we need to be responsive to the needs of communities. And I have heard many residents in Northeast Seattle say that they feel overlooked. And so I would love to do a listening post there. We’ve done community listening posts in other places but I would love to sit with any neighborhood group and literally just listen – not there with an agenda to present our platform. But there to listen and hear and allow communities to develop our platform. We have a goal of really being organic. Because now we’re in good place to be organic. We don’t have to make the bottom-line decision yet. We’re actually in an incredible position to have these dynamic conversations that really develop the vision and community with people and we want to do that including with our neighbors and our communities in Northeast Seattle.

4 to Explore: Thank you so much for taking this time to have this interview.

# # #

1 Issue to Engage

Straightening Out A Councilman’s Twisted Truth

Do you recognize this bulldozer? It’s hard to tell because there are so many rumbling in Northeast Seattle these days. (It’s the one on NE 50th and Brooklyn).

Seattle leaders should prevent demolitions and displacement. Instead, our local government officials — led by Councilmember Rob Johnson — have been spending an enormous amount of time and taxpayer resources to quickly implement polices that will benefit their for-profit developer campaign donors and intensify demolitions and displacement.

Councilmember Rob Johnson’s recent Op Ed entitled “U District leads the way in citywide rezone effort” was misleading and irresponsible. Johnson, who was elected to represent Northeast Seattle in “District 4”, was not only celebrating his efforts to enact a law massively upzoning the U District but also giving notice to the rest of the city that he plans to upzone their neighborhoods, too. Disturbingly, many of his statements lauding the upzones were false.

In this troubling era of government officials spreading alternative facts to push their agendas and confuse communities, COUNCILMEMBER ROB JOHNSON’S TWISTING OF THE TRUTH MUST BE CORRECTED.

Misleading Statement #1: Rob Johnson wrote, “for the first time in Seattle’s history we will require affordable housing as we grow.”

Reality:  The U District and other neighborhoods in Seattle already had “Incentive Zoning” that required contributions to affordable housing (and child care and parks) if for-profit developers wanted to build higher. While the new mandatory approach could have been better, Johnson blocked amendments that would have increased affordable housing from just 9% to 10%. Without showing his math, Johnson claimed it would hurt for-profit developers. “The Urbanist” organization pointed out that other, bolder cities set-aside 20% for affordable housing. Unfortunately, the upzone enacted by City Hall may actually reduce affordable housing, as noted by the Seattle Times in their recent piece entitled “Build-Baby-Build Frenzy Leaves Affordability in the Dust.”

Misleading Statement #2: Rob Johnson wrote that the upzones are “living our values as a welcoming, sustainable and inclusive city”

Reality:  Rob Johnson gave for-profit developers a loophole:  they can write a check rather than housing low income people in their buildings. Not requiring affordable housing onsite is the opposite of inclusive.

Misleading Statement #3: Rob Johnson wrote, “We required developers to provide more open space”

Reality: Rob Johnson dismissed an ongoing, grass-roots effort to create a public square above the light rail station.

Misleading Statement #4: Rob Johnson wrote, “By investing in citywide assets like…schools…we encourage more people to live in high-amenity areas.” 

Reality:  Rob Johnson did nothing for schools. In fact, he had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to charge developer’s Impact Fees by which developers would finally to pay their fair share of growth as they do throughout the country. State law specifically allows impact fees to pay for schools, parks, and fire stations. Schools in Northeast Seattle are bursting at the seams, but Johnson ignored community requests for impact fees.  What Johnson did NOT mention in his editorial is that his election campaign was funded richly by for-profit developers. (CLICK HERE and HERE).

Misleading Statement #5: Rob Johnson wrote that the upzones are “contributing to stable neighborhoods, businesses, and schools”

Reality:  Borrowing the term from legendary urban thinker Jane Jacobs (who wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities), Rob Johnson’s massive and rapid upzone is “cataclysmic” and therefore the opposite of stable:  it will de-stabilize the neighborhoods and the small, local businesses we cherish.  Demolishing existing buildings to construct more expensive units that require higher rents will push people out and economically gentrify neighborhoods.

Misleading Statement #6: Rob Johnson wrote that upzones will “continue to lower our greenhouse gas emissions”

Reality:  Rob Johnson’s upzone is an environmental shell game:  by pushing people of modest means out of the U District as wealthy tech workers snatch up the expensive new buildings, the former residents will need to commute longer distances in their cars, thereby doing nothing to curb emissions

Misleading Statement #7: Rob Johnson wrote “we delayed zoning changes along a stretch of the Ave so a study on the potential impacts on small businesses could be completed.”

Reality: This “delay” was a cynical tactic to allow passage of the larger upzone everywhere else in the neighborhood. Because Rob Johnson is the Councilmember representing the Ave, it’s like having the “fox in the hen house”.  He has shown no intention of letting any “study” stop him from upzoning the rest of the Ave to benefit his developer donors. It seems he and the bureaucracy are simply waiting out the neighborhood, hoping they tire of fighting City Hall. Fortunately, there is a growing movement to Save the Ave (see end of this column).

Misleading Statement #8: Rob Johnson wrote, “This legislation includes changes made in direct response to feedback”

Reality: As shown above, Rob Johnson constantly ignored feedback from community members.  In fact, he shoved several more blocks into the upzone at the last minute, ignoring pleas to preserve the affordable housing there.

Sadly, Rob Johnson stooped to a new low by comparing concerned communities to Trump for challenging his bulldozer approach to city planning.  Reality: The people in the neighborhoods wanted more affordable housing whereas Johnson pushed for less.  Trump is a developer and developers funded Johnson’s campaign.  Trump abuses the reins of government by spreading fake news to confuse communities. We see that cynical tactic coming from City Hall, not from communities trying to have a say in their future.

We expect our government officials to listen and lead, not to spout misinformation and mislead. Thankfully, residents are not letting the U District upzone get them down and are still turning up the volume on City Hall.

What can you do?  Engage. Fight Back. City Hall is coming to develop your neighborhood whether you like it or not. Why? Because most of City Hall is representing the moneyed-interests, not the public interest. While they complain about “wealthy” homeowners (many of whom are seniors on fixed incomes), our elected officials take money and direction from local billionaires.

Save the Ave:  There is a new and growing effort to preserve the funky, small businesses on The Ave (University Way NE). Many of these have been featured as “Stores to Adore” on www.4toExplore.org, such as Scarecrow Video and Gargoyle Statuary.

  • For the small businesses devoted to preserving the Ave, CLICK HERE.
  • For the “Save the Ave” website, CLICK HERE.

Support Councilmember Lisa Herbold: Make the 1% pay more than 2% !! Make downtown developers pay their fair share for the cost of growth and congestion. Write council@seattle.gov today to reach all 9 City Councilmembers. Ask them to support Lisa Herbold’s amendments to increase the affordable housing obligations for developers in downtown and South Lake Union. Since Rob Johnson blocked neighborhood requests to increase affordability in the U District, making the Council increase affordability for downtown will set a better precedent as City Hall plots to redevelop other neighborhoods.

Need Inspiration?  For news footage of neighbors banding together recently to protest City Hall’s top-down, pro-developer policies, CLICK HERE.

1 Meeting to Connect

Follow on Facebook and Twitter for Spring Meetings

For the Spring Season this year, the best way to learn of “Meetings to Connect” is to follow 4 to Explore on Facebook or Twitter. Follow the 3 easy steps below and enjoy exploring.

Facebook:

  1. Go to www.facebook.com
  2. Search for AlexPedersenSeattle
  3. Click Like/Follow Page.

Twitter:

  1. Go to www.twitter.com.
  2. Type our “handle” into Search box: @alexpedersensea .
  3. Then click “Follow.”

Some of the best meetings occurred already such as the “Save the Ave” fundraiser March 31, 2017 for small, neighborhood businesses under duress from City Hall’s pro-developer policies. To “Save the Ave,” CLICK HERE.

Also, shaking up the race for mayor of Seattle, Nikkita Oliver launched her bid on April 2, 2017.  Could Nikkita Oliver become the first woman mayor in 100 years? Washington Hall was packed with people from across the city, including from Northeast Seattle. Nikkita Oliver is nicknamed “K.O.” like “Knock-Out”.  She earned her law degree from the University of Washington. She had clearly done her homework on the issues. In her speech, Nikkita Oliver said a lot for neighborhoods to cheer:

  • “We must stop giving developers a free ride…We have to counteract displacement…including our seniors — we have to take care of our seniors…Input must be included in a meaningful way…”  
  • Ms. Oliver also advocated strongly for permanent and humane solutions to homelessness like the best practice Housing First, rather than encampments.

For all of the candidates running for Mayor, CLICK HERE. Nikkita Oliver seems to be the only challenger of Ed Murray with real potential, thus far. Meanwhile, Mayor Murray has raised a considerable war chest. Hopefully there will be a mayoral debate in Northeast Seattle so that we can engage in a meaningful discussion about the future of our neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, many Meetings to Connect on the horizon this Spring in Northeast Seattle are sponsored by City Hall and designed to spoon-feed City Hall propaganda, such as the HALA “Open Houses“.

There is at least one upcoming AND meaningful Meeting to Connect: the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition meeting on Saturday, April 8, 2017 at 9:00 a.m. at “The Central” at 500 30th Avenue South. While the SNC meeting is not held in Northeast Seattle, Bill Bradburd is conducting training for neighborhood groups across the city on how to stay informed and engaged as City Hall attempts to implement its profit-fueled HALA upzones. All are welcome. For a map to the event, CLICK HERE.

When meaningful community-driven Meetings to Connect emerge in Northeast Seattle during the Spring months, we’ll post them on Facebook and Twitter for you. That’s why you should connect with us on Facebook and Twitter today.

For our “Meetings to Connect” over the past 3 years, CLICK HERE.

Enjoy Exploring!

# # #

1 Fun to Enjoy

Magic Mondays at Ravenna Third Place Books

Abracadabra!  Now you see it, now you don’t.  With all of the change in Seattle, we can say that about our city. But let’s have some fun and — while hard to believe — let’s have fun on a Monday. That’s right, MAGIC MONDAYS AT RAVENNA THIRD PLACE BOOKS. Free evening performances on the 2nd Monday of every month.

As described by Seattle’s Child magazine, “…Each show features the Pacific Northwest’s finest magicians performing feats of mystery, wonder and the bizarre. With its origins in the theaters of London and New York, Magic Monday is a cabaret of conjuring in the intimate setting of our bookstore.” 

  • WHAT: Magic Mondays at Ravenna Third Place Books
  • WHEN: 2nd Mondays each month 7:00 p.m. This spring that’s
  • Monday, April 10,
  • Monday, May 8,
  • Monday, June 12.
  • For regular hours of the bookstore, CLICK HERE. (It’s open every day and night).
  • WHERE: Ravenna Third Place Books, 6504 20th Ave NE at NE 65th St., Seattle, WA 98115.
  • PARKING? Yes, in back.
  • COST: Free, but bring money to buy books.
  • CAFE on site? Yes, Vios:  CLICK HERE.

One of our first “Store to Adore” articles (in Sept 2013) featured the tender trifecta of Ravenna Third Place Books, Vios restaurant & cafe, and Third Place Pub. For that original article, CLICK HERE.

For the books recommended by the well-read Third Place staff, CLICK HERE. This month’s “Staff Picks” include “Evicted: Poverty & Profit in the American City.”

For video showing the magic coin-bending trick, CLICK HERE.
For lots of magic tricks for kids, CLICK HERE.

Families can find other fun events this month on the calendar websites of Parent MapRed Tricycle, and Seattle’s Child.

NEIGHBORHOOD:  To explore more of Ravenna and Bryant, subscribe to the Ravenna Blog, “like” 4 to Explore on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. You can also attend the Ravenna-Bryant Community Association (RCBA). The RBCA is among the many community councils that serve on our Northeast District Council (NEDC).

BONUSFUNs TO ENJOY:

Easter Egg Hunts at Northeast Seattle Parks.

  • Ravenna:
  • Where: Ravenna Eckstein Community Center.
  • When: Saturday, April 15 at 9:45 a.m., Rain or Shine.
  • Laurelhurst:
  • Where: Laurelhurst Community Center
  • When: Saturday, April 15 at 9:45 a.m., Rain or Shine.
  • Other locations in Northeast Seattle, CLICK HERE.

1 Store to Adore

Gargoyles Statuary

Did you know that “Seattle’s source of gargoyles and gothic statuary” is here in Northeast Seattle? When we visited this magically cozy store on the Ave, the owner Gayle Nowicki was beaming positive energy, helping customers find what they needed — from gargoyle statues to otherworldly lamps, incense, paintings, and postcards. She made sure I knew they host funky art shows periodically in the back of their store, such as the “Spooked Hearts” art show (featured earlier on our Facebook page).

This season’s “Store to Adore” is GARGOYLES STATUARY on The Ave in the U District neighborhood.

As they say more eloquently on their website, “Gargoyles Statuary offers images and accoutrements rooted in antiquity and imagination — unseen things brought to light, to beautify, serve and protect — sacred, profane, whimsical or wicked, always with an eye to excellence.”

What are Gargoyles and why should we care? Gargoyles are protectors in both practical and mystical ways. Medieval architects often designed them as fantastical rain gutters to divert rain water away from buildings, thereby delaying deterioration. The good condition of Notre Dame in Paris, for example, is thanks in part to the many hollowed-out gargoyles jutting from the walls of the cherished building’s exterior. They may look scary, but many believe they serve as loyal guardians of your home, place of worship, or other important building. Therefore, their scary expressions are meant to scare away evil forces!

But don’t take our word for it: check out their glowing reviews on YELP.

  • LOCATION: 4550 University Way NE (“The Ave), Seattle, WA 98105
    Across the street from the Starbucks on The Ave, near NE 47th Street. Look for the single story building with an historic facade.
  • HOURS: Open 7 days a week from 12:00 noon to 7:00 p.m.
  • BROWSE ONLINE: CLICK HERE.

For a Q&A with the owner on Crave, CLICK HERE.

Gargoyles is featured on the “Only In Seattle” website, which is ironic because that initiative to “support” local, small businesses is run by our City’s Office of Economic Development — the same city government whose reckless upzones incentivize landlords to raise rents through the roof or sell out to for-profit developers, who then tear down buildings to make room for luxury studios and chain stores. Since they cannot rely on their own city officials to advocate for them (or even to represent them), perhaps the Stores to Adore and the naturally occurring affordable housing at risk in the U District will soon resort to installing gargoyles to ward off those destructive forces.

NEIGHBORHOOD: Learn more about the U District. Stroll through Farmers Market Saturday mornings. Engage the many groups: University District Community Council, the U District Partnership (formerly the Chamber of Commerce), and the City / University Community Advisory Committee (CUCAC). Fill up at the diverse eateries from Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe to the Portage Bay Cafe. Adore stores like The Trading Musician to Artist & Craftsman Supply as well as the Henry Museum and Burke Museum.

1 Meeting to Connect

Concerns Raised with Upzones on Steroids

When communities realize City Hall is not listening, they turn up the volume. When City Hall refuses to compromise, communities have little choice but to oppose an entire policy, even when it has some positive attributes.

This is becoming true with the Mayor’s backroom bargain for developers (H.A.L.A.) and the related upzones of the U District and surrounding Northeast Seattle neighborhoods.

Trust is lacking for good reason. First, Mayor Ed Murray dumped the all-volunteer Neighborhood District Councils that questioned his aggressive land use changes. Then City Hall tried to dupe neighborhoods into developing more accessory dwelling units. While some elements made sense (e.g. more affordable housing and softening the parking space requirement), City Hall refused to budge on its most controversial proposal: not requiring the owner to live there. Here was another backdoor, backroom giveaway to developers and land speculators that City Hall tried to steamroll over neighborhoods. Thankfully, the City’s Hearing Examiner exposed the damaging giveaway as detailed by the Seattle Times editorial entitled, “Ruling Calls Bluff on City’s Misguided Housing Policy on Backyard Cottages” (CLICK HERE).  If a community had not risen up to voice concerns and challenge officials, City Hall’s misleading proposal to benefit developers would, according to the City Hearing Examiner, “accelerate gentrification, driving up home values and reducing the number of entry-level single-family residences available to immigrant populations, thereby diminishing the City’s diversity.”

City Hall ideologues, with Councilmember Rob Johnson as the new front man, are using the same cynical steamrolling strategy with its upzones: pretend it has heard feedback but give for-profit developers (who donate to their political campaigns) what they want. While some attributes of the upzone are laudable, the downsides need to be addressed first.  Hello! Our city government’s mission should be preventing economic displacement, not rushing to fuel profits for developers and landowners.

In a piece they co-wrote for the Seattle Times, former City Councilmember Jean Godden and Taso Lago astutely urged City Hall, “Don’t Let the U District Become the Next South Lake Union.”  (CLICK HERE.)

If you want to turn up the volume, attend this season’s “Meeting to Connect”: VOICE YOUR CONCERN OVER POORLY PLANNED, PROFIT-DRIVEN UPZONES. 

  • WHAT: Upzone meeting. City Counci’s Planning, Land Use, and Zoning (P.L.U.Z.) Committee. For a link, CLICK HERE. Sign up to speak when you arrive.
  • WHEN: Fri, Jan 6 at 9:15 a.m. and Thurs, Jan 19 at 1:45 p.m. (Update: City Council inexplicably cancelled the Jan 6 meeting, but the Jan 19 meeting is still on.)
  • WHERE: City Hall at 600 Fourth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104
  • WHO: You, neighbors, lobbyists for developers, and City Councilmembers.
  • WHY: Because you care about your neighborhood and city.
  • OTHER: If you cannot attend, write your City Councilmembers. You can send an e-mail to all 9 at this e-mail address:  council@seattle.gov. For other contact info, CLICK HERE.

Yard Signs Available: If you want to voice your concerns with a yard sign, send an e-mail to yard-sign@wallingfordcc.org or order one through their website by CLICKING HERE.

Here are some good ideas that City Hall has ignored:

  1. RETHINK BOUNDARIES: The upzones for Wallingford across I-5 make no sense; City Hall should just admit that and reduce that upzone until the Wallingford neighborhood receives sufficient transit services and public school capacity to handle the increased growth. For more info on Wallingford upzone, published by the Wallyhood blog, CLICK HERE and HERE.
  2. PREVENT DEMOLITIONS and DISPLACEMENT: Prevent economic gentrification by requiring One-For-One Replacement of affordable housing units demolished. (Helping to prevent displacement is the Seattle Displacement Coalition. For their coverage of Mayor Murray’s visit to the U District CLICK HERE and for their report estimating displacement, CLICK HERE. For City Hall’s “Displacement Report,” CLICK HERE. For a recent Seattle Times article on both “sides,” CLICK HERE. )
  3. KEEP IT FUNKY: Save the eclectic Stores to Adore (think Scarecrow Video, Gargoyles, and hardware stores). Funky stores that keep the neighborhood fun and vibrant cannot afford high rent. The U District upzone will encourage landlords to sell out to developers eager to demolish and build more expensive buildings whose rent only chain stores and banks can afford. Learn the lessons from Jane Jacobs in her seminal work, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (CLICK HERE).
  4. WIDEN SIDEWALKS: Increase the width of sidewalks (by increasing the “setbacks” of new buildings), so that families can stroll both ways without spilling into traffic.
  5. IMPACT FEES: Make developers pay their fair share of the cost of growth. By charging Impact Fees (as wise leaders do in jurisdictions throughout Washington and the nation), for-profit developers in Seattle would finally contribute to the building of new schools or fire stations. If the City had started charging Impact Fees 10 years ago, it would have generated enough money to build at least 5 new elementary schools.
  6. AFFORDABLE HOUSING: BUILD IT IN U DISTRICT: Require the affordable housing units to be built in the same neighborhoods as the upzones. The irony of labeling neighborhood activists (who actually welcome affordable housing) as racist NIMBY’s is absurd when it’s the for-profit developers who explicitly refuse to put the affordable housing in their own developments.
  7. AFFORDABLE HOUSING: REQUIRE MORE: Increase the amount of affordable housing that must be built. The current percentages (under 10%) are too low. And downtown and South Lake Union are getting away with even lower numbers — shameful.  While supporters of HALA say, increasing the amount of affordable housing will make it harder to build any housing, City Hall refuses to make public the numbers on how much profit it is generating and giving away to developers.

HEIGHTS: Our concern is not with the proposed building heights or more density in the U District. Our concern is with the downsides that have not been mitigated and the existing residents who have been ignored. Dramatically and suddenly increasing heights — when owners can already build higher per EXISTING zoning — provides a monetary windfall (increased value) for landowners that, in turn, fuels land speculation / demolitions — AND yet our elected officials are driving this upzone at the behest of for-profit developers and the UW, rather than listening to residents or prioritizing the prevention of economic displacement.

A sad example is the PUBLIC PLAZA idea. While we were not huge fans of the proposed public plaza over the new light rail station at Brooklyn Ave, clearly neighbors wanted it. Yet, as usual, the City, Sound Transit, and UW ignored them. Once a building is constructed on that space, we forgo the option of the plaza. So why not do what the people want and try out the plaza first? The monied interests control the agenda, not the residents.

For a map showing how new zoning changes impact your neighborhood, CLICK HERE.

Progressives in Seattle need to wake up and stop being duped by the developer-politician coalition posing as environmentalists, journalists, or affordable housing advocates. Follow the money. If someone pushes a policy, ask, “Are they paid or employed to be here? Who funded their campaign? Who is paying their salary?” The fact that regular families need to spend hundreds of hours just trying to get their elected officials to listen and do their jobs is maddening. Communities have little choice but to demand that City Hall turn off the bulldozers, fold up the cranes, and start over before they harm neighborhoods just to benefit for-profit developers.

Get our free "4 to Explore" newsletter delivered to your inbox every month. Click Here to Subscribe