1 Issue to Engage

How to Make a Real Difference in City Government

As published recently in The Seattle Weekly.


As Tim Burgess’s service as an elected official came to an end a few weeks ago, I heard many city officials expressing gratitude for my former boss. They listed his many accomplishments during his brief service as mayor and during his leadership on the Seattle City Council. During the bittersweet farewell event, I believe I was not the only person there reflecting on what it means “to make a real difference” in city government. The answer could be a powerful guide for our new mayor as she enters the New Year.

Today, too many local officials speechify about national issues as if they were running for Congress.  They seem focused on anything other than the core mission of city government. That’s a shame because, as Tim Burgess said at the event honoring his public service, city government is where you are closest to the people. Keeping them safe, providing clean water, keeping the lights on, fixing the roads – a “high calling” of serving your neighbors.

So what makes a real difference?

First, City Hall needs to listen to residents rather than lobbyists. For more on that, you can CLICK HERE to read our piece called “Listen Up, City Hall!”  Then, each proposal needs to meet these tests:

  • The city program or policy must be proven to work based on the evidence. It’s not just throwing money at a problem because an interest group lobbied.
  • The improvement is institutionalized, meaning that it is codified and not easily undone by the next budget cycle.
  • The improvement changes a system or creates a ripple effect, positively impacting other programs.

Here are 4 recent changes that did not last in the headlines but are making a lasting difference:

1. Requiring Results For Homeless Programs.  While city leaders increase funding for homeless programs every year, it was the city staff committed to effectiveness and positive outcomes that made a real difference. This year they convinced city leaders to require results through performance-based contracts. House the homeless or we will reinvest the money in organizations that can. As Burgess said, “Business as usual is no longer an option. The scale of the human crisis that we face requires that we set high standards for accountability.” While some criticized certain homeless strategies receiving funds this year, that’s the beauty of requiring performance:  if a program doesn’t work, reinvest the tax dollars into other best practices.

2. Empowering the Police Chief to appoint her own Assistant Chiefs. Appointing Kathleen O’Toole as Police Chief was the best personnel decision in the last 4 years. But people leave. The more lasting change was codified by Burgess, a former police officer. Burgess recognized that a 35-year old policy preventing Police Chiefs from hiring their own command staff repelled the best candidates and handcuffed any chief’s ability to implement reforms.  So Burgess fixed the law by quietly crafting Ordinance 124415. Whoever becomes our new Police Chief will benefit and so will our city.

3. Demanding Efficiency from Seattle Public Utilities (SPU). For the first time in recent memory a Councilmember (Lisa Herbold) made a city agency reduce costs in order to benefit regular people. She also made those profiting from the city’s growth pay their fair share to connect to utility services, adopting the best practice seen in cities throughout the country.  While the effort fell short because utility rates are still increasing too quickly and the city still makes ratepayers (the people) inappropriately subsidize other government agencies, the Councilmember set a positive precedent for other city officials to find savings within the city’s $5 billion budget.  Freeing up dollars from inefficient or ineffective programs enables us to invest in what works and/or to reduce financial burdens on city residents.

4. Creating the Department of Education and Early Learning (DEEL). Crafting the Seattle Preschool Program, with its commitment to high-quality, was a nationally recognized accomplishment and is improving the lives of low-income children. But it was the creation of a new city department (DEEL) that forged a powerful continuum of learning programs to benefit Seattleites from cradle to college. The creation of DEEL smartly shifted the focus away from just supplementing a family’s income to providing life-long benefits through education. To thrive instead of survive. And the DNA of DEEL is a model for city government: DEEL measures and produces outcomes and sticks to high-quality, evidence-based programs.

Here are 4 more changes city leaders should implement to make a real difference:

  1. Expand the high-quality Seattle Preschool Program to close the achievement Gap.
  2. Charge Impact Fees (already authorized by State law) to help build public elementary schools and relieve overcrowded classrooms.
  3. Revive grassroots Neighborhood Planning so that residents have a real voice in our growing city.
  4. Reform the retirement system for new city government employees to free up dollars for public safety and homelessness prevention.

City government does not need to be hip or loud or ideological to make a difference; it just needs to work well.

1 Meeting to Connect

Forum on School Funding

Overcrowded classrooms make it harder to teach and learn. Schools in North Seattle continue to burst at the seams even as regressive taxes keep rising.  Yet our Seattle Mayors and City Councilmembers consistently dodge a key source of money for our schools:  Developer Impact Fees.

Although we are accustomed to blaming our State officials in Olympia for poor policy and funding decisions for our public schools (much of which is still warranted), our city officials also have tools they refuse to use.

Impact Fees, already authorized by State law, enable cities to charge for-profit developers a fee to help construct and renovate schools, fire stations, parks, and nearby streets to mitigate the impact the new real estate developments have on communities. Impact Fees could help relieve overcrowded classrooms. Savvy city leaders collect Impact Fees throughout Washington State (including other Puget Sound cities) and the nation.  Why not in Seattle?

Asked at the December 6, 2017 meeting of Wallingford Community Council about charging developers Impact Fees, Councilmember Rob Johnson replied lamely, “I don’t know the status of impact fees.” Yet he’s the chair of the City’s land use committee that would craft such fees. He suggested checking in with Councilmember Mike O’Brien. O’Brien and Sally Bagshaw surprised supporters of impact fees by penning an Op Ed in the Seattle Times along with affordable housing expert Lisa Herbold called “Seattle is Overdue for Developer Impact Fees.” But that was back in July 2017 and nothing has happened — even with the opportunity to direct policy or research funding during the Oct-Nov budget process.

This season’s “Meeting to Connect” is a FORUM ON SCHOOL FUNDINGorganized by local Parent-Teacher-Student Associations (PTSAs).

  • WHAT: School Funding Forum
  • WHEN: Wednesday, Jan 3, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.
  • WHO: you, your fellow parents, grandparents, guardians and others in the neighborhood passionate about fully funding public schools
  • HOSTED BY: local PTSAs
  • WHERE: Hamilton Middle School 1610 N. 41st Street, WA 98103.

At this meeting, we need to collectively ask, “Why have city leaders failed to collect $$$ from Developer Impact Fees?”  Is it because real estate developers contribute to their political campaigns and favorite ballot measures?

Here is the official invitation to the meeting from the PTSAs: “You may have heard rumors of recent new funding for Washington state’s schools and restrictions by the state on the use of local levies. At the same time, Seattle Public Schools forecasts a budget shortfall, with increasingly overcrowded schools and even basic projects like refurbishing Lincoln High School remaining underfunded.

Join us at 7:30pm on January 3rd in the Hamilton International Middle School library to hear from our local legislators on how Seattle will be impacted by recent and upcoming legislation, and what you can do about it.

Panelists will include:

  • Washington State Senator Jamie Pedersen (District 43)
  • Washington State Representative Nicole Macri (District 43)
  • Seattle Public Schools Director Rick Burke (District 2)
  • Seattle City Councilman Rob Johnson (NE Seattle)

We’ll hear from each member of the panel as well as take questions from parents…”

For budget news and views from the Seattle School District, CLICK HERE.

Later this year, city leaders will be asking voters to renew the property taxes that fund both the Families & Education Levy and the highly successful Seattle Preschool Program. Before asking existing homeowners AND renters to increase regressive property taxes again, City Hall should enact Impact Fees to show that we are leveraging all available resources. It’s an equity issue:  investors benefiting from the city’s growth should contribute their fair share. As Nikkita Oliver deftly framed the issue earlier this year, real estate investors are people, too, and of course they should care about education and infrastructure. Investors should want the people for whom they build their buildings to enjoy healthy communities. It’s good for business and it’s the right thing to do. Moreover, it’s important to note that the blame/burden rests not with for-profit developers who naturally strive to build profitable projects while trying to influence an unpredictable City Hall. The responsibility rests with City Hall officials — those serving the public must show the political will to craft a fair deal for the public.

MORE “MEETINGS TO CONNECT”:  Upzoning Your Neighborhood. As mentioned in our Holiday Edition, City Hall plans to upzone your neighborhood whether you want it or not. To tell City Hall how you feel about it, CLICK HERE for our article. The upzone meetings are Jan 30, 2018 at Hamilton Middle School and Feb 28, 2018 at Whitman Middle School, both at 6 p.m. Engage with your neighbors!

1 Fun to Enjoy

Cultural Fest 2018 at UW

Want to travel the world in a day? This February you can — and without leaving Northeast Seattle.  This season’s “Fun to Enjoy” is CULTURAL FEST 2018 at the University of Washington’s main campus.

Cultural Fest is sponsored by the Center for Global Studies and organized by the Foundation for International Understanding Through Students (FIUTS).

CulturalFest is really two related events: (1) the free Expo and (2) the Performances.

(1) The International Expo at UW “features activities, arts and crafts, games, and hands-on learning opportunities for everyone. International students and volunteers share insights into their cultures and countries...Visitors have a unique chance to experience booths representing over 35 cultures through music, dance, food, conversation and interactive activities. CulturalFest booths are developed and staffed by student volunteers from all over the world, and free and open to the public. CulturalFest is the largest multicultural student event at the University of Washington and truly allows visitors to travel the world in a day!”  

(2) The Performance Showcase “brings the best University of Washington artists, musicians, singers, dancers, and choreographers from around the world together onto the Meany Theater stage to celebrate the diversity and talent of the international community in our region.”

(1) EXPO:

  • WHAT: International Expo booths, food, and activities
  • WHEN: Thurs, Feb 8 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • WHERE: University of Washington, Husky Union Building (the HUB) in the middle of the main Seattle campus.
  • PARKING? Yes.
  • FIELD TRIP FRIENDLY? Yes, teachers! To arrange, CLICK HERE.


  • WHAT: International dances and music on stage
  • WHEN: Sat, Feb 10 (pre-show at 5:30 and performances at 7 p.m.)
  • WHERE: University of Washington, Meany Hall, just off 15th Ave
  • PARKING? Yes. For directions, CLICK HERE.
  • KID-FRIENDLY EVENT? Yes (kindergartners and older)
  • COST? Yes, to buy tickets CLICK HERE (Kids under 10 Free, but need ticket.


  • Caspar Babypants Music:  For fun for the tiny music lovers in your family, CLICK HERE for a concert at the Neptune Theatre in the U District on April 28, 2018 at 10:30 a.m.
  • We first learned about Cultural Fest online at Parent Map. Families can find other fun events this winter on the websites of Parent MapRed Tricycle, and Seattle’s Child.

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), the alternative Small Businesses Directory (associated with Save the Ave and the U District Square campaigns), and the City / University Community Advisory Committee (CUCAC). Fill up at the diverse eateries such as Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe, Persepolis, and Portage Bay Cafe. Adore stores such as The Trading Musician, Gargoyles Statuary, and Artist & Craftsman Supply as well as the Henry Museum and Burke Museum.

1 Store to Adore

Bulldog News on The Ave

When it’s cold outside on The Ave and you need a cozy escape with news and coffee, there’s no more informative sanctuary than BULLDOG NEWS, your neighborhood “Newsstand of the World.”

Founded 35 years ago in 1983 when Ronald Reagan was in his first term as President and the Seattle Seahawks entered the football playoffs for the first time, Bulldog News quickly became an anchor retail store in the U District.

During the dark months of Jan / Feb / March, explore this season’s illuminating “Store to Adore” Bulldog News in the U District.

  • LOCATION: 4208 University Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105 (the Ave)
  • HOURS: Mon-Fri 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Sat/Sun 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

As described more eloquently on Bulldog’s website, “Our stores create an open and welcoming environment…By providing a comprehensive selection of periodicals and a gathering place for coffee and conversation, Bulldog News encourages a convening of perspectives…When the public space is illuminated by our shared values, we become visible to one another as individuals, rather than potential antagonists or allies. We also gain both the opportunity and the obligation to be our best selves. This is why we ask you to help make Bulldog News the place where your neighborhood meets the world.”

If the weather is too yucky to venture outside at all, Bulldog News is still there for you.   You can order your favorite publications online from them – even just single issues  – by CLICKING HERE.

As many of you know, The Ave in the U District is under assault by City Hall’s narrow-minded obsession with upzones, fueled by profit-motivated developers and landowners who donate to political campaigns. While it makes sense to increase density around the forthcoming light rail station (scheduled for 2021 on Brooklyn Ave), it does not make sense to destroy the funky charms of The Ave by knocking down existing buildings or jacking up rents on small businesses (to pay for higher property taxes caused by the upzones). City Hall should protect, not destroy. City Hall should listen, not dictate. City Hall should embrace, not displace.

Unfortunately, City Hall is bulldozing ahead with the worst aspects of the backroom “H.A.L.A.” deal hatched by disgraced former Mayor Ed Murray, rather than collaborating with communities. City Hall is in full propaganda mode, encouraging lobbyists to demonize existing residents who raise legitimate concerns.

Fortunately, communities are fighting back. Small businesses formed “Save the Ave” which funded a study by former City Council President Peter Steinbrueck. For his presentation to City Council, CLICK HERE (and scroll to item #8). For the entire 40-page report, CLICK HERE. Based on the key findings, City Hall should NOT upzone the buildings fronting both sides of The Ave (University Way NE): 

  • 90% of the small businesses on The Ave rent their space from the landowner.
  • 65% of small businesses on The Ave are women or minority owned.
  • 56% have been operating on The Ave for more than 10 years.
  • The top concern of the business owners: “rent is high/increasing” and “gentrification”.
  • Only 22% have a positive view of the proposed upzone.

Disturbingly, The Ave is in the hands of City Councilmember Rob Johnson who never met an upzone he didn’t like. For more about concerns over Rob Johnson’s land use schemes, CLICK HERE.

NEIGHBORHOOD: See the “Fun to Enjoy” article in this 4 to Explore newsletter for more info on the funky U District. In short, you can spend an entire day exploring the U District, starting your morning with espresso at Bulldog News and ending it with beer & pizza at Big Time Brewery. To Save the Ave, contact info@bigtimebrewery.com and write all 9 of your City Councilmembers at council@seattle.gov .

1 Meeting to Connect

H.A.L.A. Open Houses / Community Protests

Booming population. Choking streets. Skyrocketing costs.

Managing growth in Seattle was a key campaign issue this past November as we voted for a new Mayor and both city-wide Councilmembers. Despite some new leadership, City Hall is plowing ahead with the land use and housing policies hatched by disgraced Mayor Ed Murray — his backroom deal with influential real estate developers called H.A.L.A. (Housing Affordability & Livability Agenda).

As part of its plan to up-zone 27 Seattle neighborhoods, the city government released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIS) on Nov 9, 2017 and is hosting “Open Houses” to tell us all what to expect regarding upzones in our neighborhoods.

According to the City website, “Come and review maps of proposed MHA zoning changes to your urban Village.

District 4 includes the following urban villages:
Eastlake, Fremont, Greenlake, Roosevelt, U-District, Wallingford

Districts 5 + 6 includes the following urban villages: Aurora-Licton Springs, Ballard, Bitter Lake, Crown Hill, Greewood-Phinney Ridge, Lake City, Northgate.”

Unfortunately, the Final EIS fails to adequately address how the city will handle the increased pressures on bus service, school capacity, parks, trees, and other issues. For example, Section 1.43 (page 75 of the 1,050 page document) offers a lame response to how the Seattle Public School (SPS) District would respond to the city government’s 27 upzones: “SPS would respond to the exceedance of capacity as it has done in the past, by adjusting school boundaries and/or geographic zones, adding/ removing portables, adding/renovating buildings, reopening closed buildings or schools, and/or pursuing future capital programs.”  While the upzones will financially benefit many real estate investors, the final EIS has no specifics, timeline, or decision on whether to have those profiting from the upzones forgo some of their Return on Investment by paying Impact Fees — which could help to build schools like they do throughout Washington State and the nation.

Moreover, while City Hall leaders wring their hands about economic inequities, their Final EIS also fails to address the economic displacement of existing residents.

Due to the shortcomings of the City’s massive upzone plans, a coalition of community groups is protesting HALA by formally appealing the Final E.I.S. For information about coalition or to support it, CLICK HERE. For mainstream media coverage of their formal appeal, CLICK HERE.

In addition to the concerns mentioned above, many are upset by the lack of true affordable housing in the so-called “Mandatory Housing Affordability” (MHA) policy that accompanies the upzones. They feel our city government is “giving away the store” to for-profit developers who refuse to set-aside apartment units for low-income tenants. That’s because city government is allowing for-profit developers not only allow to build more market-rate (un-affordable units) than authorized under today’s zoning code, but also to write a check instead of actually building the urgently needed affordable housing onsite — many would agree that excluding low-income families from your new apartment building is not  “welcoming,”  “equitable,” or “progressive values” as touted by City Hall.

It’s important to note that several real estate developers think HALA will not benefit them. Smaller real estate developers, in particular, often generate a smaller return on investment, depending on the project they are building. The blame/burden rests not with for-profit developers who naturally strive to build profitable projects while trying to influence an unpredictable City Hall (as distasteful as that might feel), but rather with the City Hall officials and their inability or unwillingness to rigorously use math, business acumen, and best practices to negotiate a fair deal for the public they serve.

For our previous columns on HALA concerns, CLICK HERE.

This season’s “Meeting to Connect“: H.A.L.A. OPEN HOUSES / COMMUNITY PROTESTS.


  • WHAT: Upzones/Mandatory Affordable Housing (MHA) “Open House”
  • WHEN: Tuesday, Jan 30, 2018 at 6:00 p.m.
  • WHO: you, your neighbors, and small businesses fromEastlake, Fremont, Green Lake, Roosevelt, U-District, and Wallingford.
  • HOSTED BY: the City Hall officials pushing H.A.L.A.
  • WHERE: Hamilton Middle School 1610 N. 41st Street, WA 98103.
[UPDATE: There is also an official “public hearing” on Monday, February 12 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Eckstein Middle School 3003 NE 75th Street, Seattle, WA 98115. For the official city link, CLICK HERE. For an article critical of the upzone plans, CLICK HERE for the Eastlake Community Council and access to their Eastlake Newsletter.  It’s doubtful that the feedback from Jan 30 could be incorporated quickly enough to have a public hearing on a specific proposal, which demonstrates once again City Halls’ bogus process of “engaging” with the communities.



  • WHAT: Upzones/Mandatory Affordable Housing (MHA) “Open House”
  • WHEN: Wed, Feb 28, 2018 at 6:00 p.m.
  • WHO: you, your neighbors, and small businesses fromAurora-Licton Springs, Ballard, Bitter Lake, Crown Hill, Greewood-Phinney Ridge, Lake City, and Northgate
  • HOSTED BY: the City Hall officials pushing H.A.L.A.
  • WHERE: Whitman Middle School gym, 9201 15th Ave NW Seattle, WA 98117

For the full calendar from City Hall, CLICK HERE. For the maps, CLICK HERE.

IDEOLOGUES / LOBBYISTS / INTEREST GROUPS WARNING: The audience might be swarming with activist members of single-issue interest groups — many of whom are funded by the for-profit developers pushing the upzones — and other ideologues encouraged by city officials and lobbyists to attend in order to insulate City Hall from the criticism of the residents and neighborhood businesses skeptical of the upzones. So, find your neighbors and don’t be shy about asking questions of city officials. It’s complicated stuff, requiring overlapping maps and “insider-baseball” land use terminology. Be persistent — the city officials work for you and this is your community.

Like the many Seattle residents who want to grow affordable housing and impede urban sprawl, we have been extremely frustrated with H.A.L.A. because it falls short on both affordability and livability. And, while the changes forced by H.A.L.A. benefit several real estate developers, landowners, and land speculators, City Hall is imposing H.A.L.A. in an undemocratic and divisive manner — pitting well-meaning people against each other and demonizing or steamrolling long-time Seattle residents who express skepticism or concern. Bullying residents is bad policy — it’s not sustainable in Seattle, it’s not scalable to other cities, and it’s just not right.  Without the H.A.L.A. bulldozers revving their engines, the same neighborhood leaders, interest groups, and residents barking at each other over Twitter would probably be enjoying a beer or coffee together, discussing how best to manage growth within Seattle and how to stem the harmful development sprawl spreading rapidly in areas east of the Cascades and throughout the U.S.

photo of bulldozer at NE 50th Street & Brooklyn on March 7, 2017

1 Issue to Engage

Listen Up, City Hall!

As published recently in Crosscut.com and in last season’s newsletter.


Congratulations to the surviving city government candidates — and listen up!

Residents want to know how you will listen to them — rather than to campaign donors and interest groups…

Here are four ways you can empower all of City Hall to listen more:

1. Hold City Council Meetings at Night.
Should city residents be required to use a vacation day to tell City Councilmembers their ideas and concerns? Of course not. So why does City Council conduct its meetings from 9 to 5 when most residents are working or taking their children to and from school? Typically the only people able to attend Council meetings are lobbyists or activists spurred by those lobbyists. The “Busy Majority” of residents cannot attend because they cannot be away from their jobs or families.  City Council: please hold your meetings at night — and provide child care so parents and guardians can attend.

2. Activate a 3-1-1 Call Center Available 24/7.

Do what has worked well for more than a decade in cities from San Francisco to Chicago to New York: enable people to dial an easy-to-remember phone number (3-1-1) to request city services and report concerns — from potholes to policies. The City’s Customer Service Bureau is available ONLY on weekdays and Councilmember office hours for constituents are scant or inconsistent. Few can remember the City’s non-emergency phone number and it provides only minimal services. While the “Find It Fix It” technology works for some, a 3-1-1 Call Center open 24/7 will enable residents without access to fancy iPhones to receive the best customer service. A 3-1-1 Call Center will also make our communities safer by reducing the number of non-emergency calls to 9-1-1 operators. City managers and Councilmembers could use the 3-1-1 software system to track responsiveness and results for their constituents.

3. Free Councilmembers to Spend More Time with Neighbors.

What’s the easiest way to carve out time for Councilmembers? Free them from time-consuming research required to vote on frivolous or unnecessary Resolutions. The Council should immediately amend its own rules [Section V (A)(2)] to allow abstentions on most Resolutions, except those needed for the city budget, legislative work plans, and related Ordinances. Enable the “Work Horses” in City Council to ignore the “Show Horses.”

Here’s why abstentions are so important: Certain City Councilmembers love to spend weeks drafting and lobbying their colleagues to support Resolutions that have nothing to do with city government. But City Council’s own rules require Councilmembers to vote Yes or No. Example: international affairs. Will the United Nations really care what the Seattle City Council thinks about treaties with foreign nations? No. Yet Councilmembers are spending precious hours researching them. Let Councilmembers abstain from these distractions so they can spend more time listening to constituents.  Fewer TED Talks, More Sidewalks!

4. Conduct a Poll Every Year and Share it with the Public:

After all of those community meetings, here’s what City Councilmembers really listen to: polls. Unfortunately, politicians conduct polls only when they are trying to get re-elected – whereas they should have been listening to a wide array of residents during the previous four years. They also hog the polling data for themselves. Worst of all, they are beholden to the campaign contributors who pay the pollsters. So, let’s democratize the data.  Conduct official surveys and release results to the public as cities already do in California,  Missouri, and Canada.

Methodically asking residents across the city what they think can help to prioritize funding, assist journalists, and inform community groups. Surveys would not substitute for deeper debate and discussion with neighborhood groups and vulnerable populations, but gathering information from a well-crafted, professionally conducted phone survey of residents will enhance our public discourse.

Engaging with the residents of Seattle should not be a separate chore or box to check when elected officials need something.  Connecting with constituents is the essence of being an elected official

If you agree, send this website link of our Crosscut column to the City Council:

The link:

E-mail address that reaches all 9 Councilmembers: council@seattle.gov

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