1 Issue to Engage

Yes to Soda Tax; NO To Arts Tax

YES TO SODA TAX
NO TO ARTS TAX.

It’s important to compare these two measures, because they say a lot about how local officials try to implement programs with your tax dollars. Leadership matters.

We have studied both proposals and offer our opinions here. In short, we think the Soda Tax is a good idea and the Arts Tax is a bad idea. But we also provide some principles and helpful links for you to decide on your own.

Note: The Arts Tax is on the August 1, 2017 ballot.  The Soda Tax will appear on the November ballot only if the Soda lobbyists challenge the recently approved city ordinance by forcing a referendum.

For all of us concerned about the rise in property taxes displacing longtime residents and senior citizens, the Soda Tax (which taxes certain sugary beverages) is a smart, surgically focused alternative to yet another property tax levy. The Soda Tax will simultaneously encourage healthier habits while raising funds for programs proven to help kids such as Nurse Family Partnership.

On the other hand, the Arts Tax is ill-conceived and low priority. At a time when homelessness is on the rise and leaders are failing to adequately fund basic reading and math, the Arts Tax lacks clear goals and tangible outcomes. Because it will raise the sales tax, the Arts Tax will be regressive no matter what – the poor would pay a larger proportion of their income no matter what they buy.

Principles to consider when voting on any ballot measure:

  1. PRIORITY? Is the proposal addressing a need that is urgent?
  2. EVIDENCE-BASED? Is the proposal backed by scientific evidence and/or proven to work in other cities?
  3. WELL-CRAFTED and ACCOUNTABLE? Is the proposal effectively designed to achieve specific OUTCOMES (e.g. graduation rates) and to allow voters and independent experts to track results?
  4. ENDORSED BY INDEPENDENTS? Who is pushing the proposal — independent voices or only groups that will benefit from it?
  5. SMART FUNDING? Can we AFFORD the proposal? Is it COST-EFFECTIVE? Are the funding sources (taxes or fees) FAIR or are they regressive (i.e. the poor pay more)?

ARTS, SCIENCE, and HERITAGE TAX (a.k.a. Ordinance 18513, “Access for All,” King County Proposition 1, or “Arts Tax”) To read it, CLICK HERE.

1. PRIORITY? No.
Housing the homeless and expanding early childhood education are more of a priority now.  Just because it pulls on your heart strings, does not mean you should tax everyone in King County.

When vulnerable populations are asked what they need most to survive and thrive, is the answer greater access to arts programs? Also, if funding these programs for our public schools is so important, why does the proposed Arts Tax set aside only 10% for schools? [See Section 7(C)(1)]

We agree with King County Councilmembers Dave Upthegrove and Larry Gossett who voted against the Arts Tax because we need to deploy the County’s scarce resources to focus on more pressing problems such as homelessness. For a similar view from the Seattle Times, CLICK HERE.

2. EVIDENCE-BASED? No.
The Statement of “Facts” at the beginning of the Arts Tax merely proclaims that “King County residents would greatly benefit” from “meaningful opportunities.”

What evidence is there that the proposed program will lead to “healthier, more inclusive communities” and “higher graduation rates” other than the words printed on the paper? Even the statements about helping the organizations are suspect, such as “would ensure that arts, science and heritage organizations are financially healthy.” How so?

Good intentions do not ensure good results. And, if we really care about the results, King County leaders should go back to the drawing board and design an evidence-based strategy to achieve specific outcomes.

3. WELL-CRAFTED and ACCOUNTABLE? No.
Lacks Outcomes: Section 4 of the Arts Tax lists as its “discernable public benefits” only vague inputs such as “Providing performances and programs” and “Supporting collaborative relationships with other cultural organizations.”  Rather than counting the number of free tickets provided and performances attended, how will beneficial outcomes be demonstrated over time among the children and other vulnerable populations?

Poorly Written: The proposed ordinance is poorly written with undefined terms (“culture” and “demographics”), loopholes (for-profits can be funded), and unenforceable provisions  (Example:  “Organizations…should reflect the demographics of King County in their staffs, board, memberships, audiences and programs”:  Does this mean downtown Seattle arts organizations need to be staffed by the growing hoard of wealthy Amazon.com “brogrammers”?)

Good Use of Existing System: One positive of the Arts Tax is that it does not reinvent the wheel and create a new expensive bureaucracy that can siphon off the tax dollars over time, but rather uses the already established infrastructure of King County’s “4Culture” department.

Weak Oversight:  The Arts Tax establishes a “4Culture advisory committee” but does not specify what it is measuring. Even its composition is muddled with a poorly worded description:  “The size and operation of the advisory council shall be defined, and at least nine members of this committee must be recommended one each by each of the nine county councilmembers and confirmed by the King County council.”  Huh?

4. ENDORSED BY INDEPENDENTS? No. 
While there are many fantastic organizations supporting the Arts Tax, most of these major endorsers are also groups that will benefit from it. These include big institutions that don’t need the money but will receive much of the money, such as the Zoo.

King County Executive Dow Constantine, who is pushing the Arts Tax, has his eye on higher office. The cynical view of the Arts Tax is that Constantine is using it to “prime the pump” of wealthy donors for his run for Governor in 2020.

5. SMART FUNDING? No.
Regressive: At over 10%, Seattle’s sales tax is already among the highest in the nation. And sales tax is regressive: the poor pay a larger proportion of their income for anything they buy. The Arts Tax would, unfortunately, increase the sales tax.

Can Rob Peter to Pay Paul:  The Arts Tax will allow General Fund dollars currently supporting the arts, heritage, and science programs to go away — supplanted by the proposed tax. This is a classic budgetary shell game whereby net funding for arts, heritage, and science might not even increase.

Spreading Peanut Butter: Rather than focusing the investment on programs proven to work, the Arts Tax proposes a scatter-shot approach — spreading the “peanut butter” thinly and ineffectively over “hundreds” of organizations. Moreover, the Arts Tax would “use seed money to establish new cultural organizations”  — without any criteria as to their need, purpose, or effectiveness.

After dying in Committee (where bad ideas should die), the Arts Tax mysteriously came back to life. For Seattle Times coverage, CLICK HERE. It is very frustrating that the County Executive puts us in the position to “vote No on the arts,” but voting No on this Arts Tax is the right thing to do.

The good news is that solutions already exist:

  • the Zoo, aquarium, museums, science center, and other venues can already provide free admission.
  • Metro buses and Sound Transit can already provide free transportation.
  • King County’s “4Culture” department should already be focusing on equity outcomes and increased access. They don’t need to increase sales taxes to achieve this.

—————-

SODA TAX (a.k.a. “Sweetened Beverage Tax,” Ordinance 125324, and Section 5.53 of the Seattle Municipal Code) To read it, CLICK HERE.

1. PRIORITY? Yes.
Low-income residents need help buying healthy food and the youngest children need high-quality education as their brains are developing.

2. EVIDENCE-BASED? Yes and No.
The Soda Tax is not perfect:  while the Birth to 5 programs are all evidence-based (proven to produce positive, measurable outcomes), the food access programs and some of the other education programs are lacking.

While the food access programs are not (yet) evidence-based, the evils of sugary drinks are.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)“Frequently drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with weight gain/obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay and cavities, and gout, a type of arthritis.”  Therefore, by discouraging consumption of sugary beverages, the Soda Tax could immediately improve health for many residents.

It would be prudent for the City to spend most of the initial dollars on the proven early learning programs while it studies how best to implement the food programs.

For evidence that Nurse Family Partnership produces positive outcomes (including crime reduction!), CLICK HERE and HERE and HERE. For evidence that high-quality preschool programs like the Seattle Preschool Program produce positive outcomes (including higher graduation rates), CLICK HERE and HERE and HERE.

3. WELL-CRAFTED and ACCOUNTABLE? Yes and No.
Throwing in the Kitchen Sink:  We believe ALL of the funding from the Soda Tax should go toward evidence-based, early learning programs. That would produce the most positive long-term impacts for the city. But as the dietary evils of sugary sodas were discussed, the proposal naturally emphasized access to healthy foods. Then subsidies for the first year of college were tossed in. This is mishmash was apparently necessary to gain the support of City Councilmembers whose priorities are clearly unclear.

Oversight: While more specific and organized than the vague oversight for the Arts Tax, the Soda Tax’s ongoing oversight has shortcomings. It creates a “Sweetened Beverage Tax Community Advisory Board”. (Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?)  But why is the Office of Sustainability and Environment (a.k.a. the Mike McGinn and Mike O’Brien Department) the lead agency? To create sustainability for itself? And why are there so few education-related experts on the 11-member board?

Evaluation: Fortunately, there is a saving grace for accountability: the Soda Tax requires an annual independent evaluation completed by academic experts and overseen by the City Auditor.

4. ENDORSED BY INDEPENDENTS? Yes.
Health and education experts support the Soda Tax, including the Washington Academy of Family Physicians which would receive no funding from the measure. City Councilmember Tim Burgess, a leader on the Soda Tax, is a retiring statesman and is well known for his commitment to evidence-based policy.

5. SMART FUNDING? Half Yes.
The early learning programs are already proven to be cost-effective, but it’s not clear whether the food access programs will be.

The good news is that, unlike the all-encompassing Arts Tax, the Soda Tax is essentially a user fee; it will tax only those who choose to buy the sugary products.

People seem obsessed with the tax itself because it’s a shiny new object. But at least the Soda Tax is not another property tax.  It’s more appropriate to focus on what the funding will do, rather than the novelty of the funding source.

Critics say the Soda Tax is regressive, but that’s valid only if you accept that it’s okay to drink sugary sodas. It’s not okay. The Soda Tax will discourage Seattle residents from buying something that is horrible for their health.  We agree this seems like a top-down, “Nanny State” approach, but it’s the same with taxing cigarettes. We cannot articulate it better than the 10-year old girl who attended the public hearing in June and said, “I can’t think of a better way to raise that money than a tax on something that has absolutely no nutritional value.”

CONCLUSION: It’s healthy to be FOR some measures and AGAINST some measures. We know some neighbors who see a tax and always vote NO because they distrust the government’s ability to spend their money wisely or they are feeling the pinch of ever-rising taxes. We also know neighbors who lead with their big hearts and want to help others on all fronts. But it’s okay to vote Yes on some and No on others. Consider the principles above and do what you think is best.

The Arts Tax vote is August 1.

  • For campaign website in favor of the Arts Tax, CLICK HERE.
  • For the official statement against the Arts Tax (Proposition 1), CLICK HERE.

The Soda Tax vote is likely November 7 if soda lobbyists force a Referendum to have voters reconsider the ordinance passed by City Council.

  • For campaign website in favor of the Soda Tax, CLICK HERE. For how Berkeley, California beat “Big Soda,” CLICK HERE.
  • For a website against Soda Tax, CLICK HERE.

1 Meeting to Connect

The Last Forum for Seattle Mayor

21. While 21 is the drinking age, it’s also the number of candidates running to become Seattle’s next mayor — which could lead some observers to drink, as they try to keep track of them all.

This season’s Meeting to Connect is THE LAST FORUM FOR SEATTLE MAYOR.

You’ll receive your ballots soon, so it’s time to make up your mind to VOTE.

  • WHAT: Last Mayoral Debate before August 1 primary
  • WHEN: Monday, July 17 at 6:00 p.m.
  • WHO: the leading Mayoral candidates and you.
  • HOSTED BY: Seattle City Club, KING 5, KUOW, and GeekWire
  • WHERE: your living room in Northeast Seattle with neighbors
  • ATTEND: If you want attend the event live at the Impact Hub in Pioneer Square, CLICK HERE. If sold out, attend free viewing party at nearby Flatstick Pub.
  • SUBMIT QUESTIONS: Complete City Club’s online form by CLICKING HERE. Or ask via Twitter by CLICKING HEREand using hashtag #SEAMayor.
  • MORE INFO: There are not many debates left, so attend whichever you can. Another upcoming debate is sponsored by CIRCC for July 15: CLICK HERE.

To catch up on the race for mayor with articles from the Seattle Times, CLICK HERE.

There are only a handful of candidates who have a chance to win and www.4toExplore.org is pleased to provide an exclusive interview with one of the leading contenders:  Nikkita Oliver.  (See below for our interview with her.) For an even more incisive interview of Nikkita Oliver, see Erica Barnett’s blog “The C is for Crank,” CLICK HERE.

Newspapers and TV stations have ignored several compelling candidates including Harvey Lever and Greg Hamilton. This upcoming candidate forum will also ignore many of them. But you can connect to all of their websites by CLICKING HERE.

More importantly, to see who is contributing $$$ to each of the candidates, CLICK HERE. Of course, the contributions from individuals directly to the campaigns are drops in the bucket compared to the massive Independent Expenditures that the Chamber of Commerce and their profit-motivated allies are pouring into the campaign of Jenny Durkan. We can only hope that Durkan will surprise her donors with her independence if voters select her.

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH MAYORAL CANDIDATE NIKKITA OLIVER

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?

Nikkita Oliver: “I want to say first that community input is incredibly invaluable. Without community input, bureaucracy just functions from top down…The neighborhood councils, while a good idea in some ways, were inherently flawed because they did not necessarily reach across constituencies… 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…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…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…”

REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT and GENTRIFICATIONDuring 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…The “Grand Bargain” allows developers to come in and build without considering their impact upon our community, and without actually investing in our community… 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…And so what I’m hoping we can come to a consensus around putting the density more equitably around our city but also doing it smartly and, 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…So I think the developers who want to be in our city have a responsibility to our city and we need to be willing to ask them to be accountable…”

IMPACT FEES: 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…”

(For more on Impact Fees, CLICK HERE.)

RESPONSIVE GOVERNMENT: Do you believe city government leaders are focusing too much on national issues instead of the basics of local government?

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 on.”

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 the 2% [set-aside] in [South Lake Union / downtown]…I want to see more of our city 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?..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…”

HOMELESSNESS: While the reportsfrom 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.  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…There are a lot of families who are homeless in the 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…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 how 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…”

GOVERNMENT SPENDINGDo 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… 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 doing 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… And part of what we’re seeing right now is that the mismanagement is really a micromanagement issue…they also don’t have the trust…their 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…”
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 have heard many residents in Northeast Seattle say that they feel overlooked. And so I would love to do a listening post there. …I would love to sit with any neighborhood group and literally just listen…and allow communities to develop our platform…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.” # # #

1 Fun to Enjoy

Live Music at Wedgwood Ale House to Build Park

Have fun this summer helping to turn dirt into a park!

Thanks to the old Parks & Green Spaces Levy from 2008, your taxpayer dollars enabled City Hall to buy a parcel at 35th Ave NE and NE 86th Street in the Wedgwood neighborhood for a future “Morningside Park.” Several years later, however, no park. (For the long history, CLICK HERE.)

Despite their $5 BILLION annual budget, our leaders at City Hall can’t seem to find the money to create the park. City Hall has failed to get the job done in Ravenna and other neighborhoods.  After paying for multiple tax increases advertised as creating more parks, residents are forced to scrape together their own funds to finish the job of city officials.  This is either mismanagement of existing funds or yet another example of how the city officials could be generating funds for parks, sidewalks, and schools if they had the guts to charge for-profit developers Impact Fees. Oops, this is a “Fun to Enjoy” so let’s stay positive!

Thankfully, residents of Northeast Seattle are taking charge by organizing LIVE MUSIC AT WEDGWOOD ALE HOUSE TO BUILD A PARK

The centerpiece of the fundraiser is live music from local bands in the back of the Ale House. A featured local band called “The Civilians” includes a Wedgwoood Community Council board member jamming on guitar.

As described on the website of the Wedgwood Community Council“The Benefit is [an] all ages show, and your presence and donation will help to raise money for the design of Wedgwood’s future park…currently scheduled to start design in 2018 and construction beginning in 2019…Robert Pulson owner of the Wedgwood Ale House is donating the use of the back room and providing staff to meet all your food and drink related needs. Come on out and support a great cause, wonderful band, and a terrific local business. WCC will use these funds to help with the park design.”

  • WHAT: Live Band, Beer, Fundraiser for NE Seattle Park
  • WHEN: Sat, July 15 at 7:30 p.m.
  • WHERE: Wedgwood Ale House (in the back), 8515 35th Ave NE
  • PARKING? Yes, until the city government screws that up soon.
  • COST: $5
  • KID-FRIENDLY EVENT? Yes, that’s how it’s advertised, but there will be beer for adults and bands rockin’ n’ rollin’
  • MENU at Wedgwood Ale House:  CLICK HERE.

NEIGHBORHOOD:  To explore more of Wedgwood, subscribe to Wedgwood View and the Wedgwood Echo.  We have featured a lot of cool stuff in Wedgwood, including Wedgwood Arts Festival (this year on July 8 & 9) and Veraci Pizza. 4 to Explore is in Wedgwood a lot (it’s where our P.O. Box is located) so, for the latest on the neighborhood, be sure to “like” 4 to Explore on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. You can also attend the Wedgwood Community Council monthly meetings.

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

1 Store to Adore

Blue Star Cafe and Pub in Wallingford

Alienated by the uppity chic restaurants serving high-falutin foods with ingredients you can’t pronounce? Yearning to go “Old School” at a friendly neighborhood joint with no pretension? Hungry for grub you can afford to adore without a high-tech salary?

This season’s “Store to Adore” is BLUE STAR CAFE & PUB in the Wallingford neighborhood.

As the local owners say more eloquently on their website, “Blue Star is Seattle’s perfect Wallingford restaurant spot to meet, eat, and be social. Enjoy our easy casual dining experience and find what you love to eat amongst our large menu selections ‘featuring fresh local ingredients and scratch recipes’…Our pub favorites just happen to compliment any dish ~ all-time famous Bloody Marys, fresh squeezed OJ mimosas, 22 rotating local beers on tap, Washington wines, and the bartender’s seasonal concoctions. We have a passion for feeding Seattle everyday ~ since 1975.”

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

Blue Star is best known for its breakfast and drinks, rather than their lunch/dinner foods. Our daughter was pleased to see Mac & Cheese on the kid’s menu.

  • LOCATION: 4512 Stone Way N, Seattle, WA 98103
    Next to another Store to Adore, the zany Archie McPhee.
  • HOURS: Mon thru Fri 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sat/Sun 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Happy Hour: every day from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Breakfast until 2:30 p.m. every day!
  • For their menus: CLICK HERE.

Happy Hour every day from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Breakfast until 2:30 p.m. every day!

For a recent write-up by neighborhood blog Wallyhood, CLICK HERE.

Wallingford, led by the Wallingford Community Council, has reluctantly (but admirably) become Ground Zero in North Seattle for challenging the City Hall “Establishment” of for-profit developers and ideological interest groups that wrap themselves in fake progressive and inclusive talking points, but abuse local government power and money to steamroll existing residents for their own narrow objectives. Is it because Wallingford voted overwhelmingly for McGinn and Maddux rather than Ed Murray and Rob Johnson? So order that Manny’s or Mimosa at Blue Star and stick it to The Man!

NEIGHBORHOOD:  To explore more of Wallingford, subscribe to their blog Wallyhood and attend meetings of the Wallingford Community Council and Wallingford Chamber of Commerce.

MORE: In previous issues of “4 to Explore,” we highlighted other gems of Wallingford including the Wallingford Wurst Festival (Septembers), Wide World Travel Store (now closed), Chutney’s Bistro (Indian cuisine), Archie McPhee toy store, and Ro Ro’s barbecue.  If the vanilla ice cream at Blue Star is not enough, walk a few blocks East on NE 45th Street for ice cream at Molly Moon’s or gelato at Fainting Goat. Also, be sure to visit the Wallingford Farmer’s Market this summer.

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.

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