More zoning demystifying: trying to read the “MHA upzone” maps

The city released the “final” EIS recently with “mandatory housing affordability” upzone maps. Part of the plan is to allow greater density in existing urban villages with optional even higher density if a developer builds more affordable housing. Predictably a group is already planning to appeal or somehow stop the proposal, which still has to go to the city council and the earliest it’s likely to pass is next summer in 2018. Meanwhile we have 1000 people moving to Seattle every week and a huge gap in housing units being built to keep up which drives up rents (supply and demand is really a thing). Anyway, I tend to think the upzones are incredibly conservative but maybe I should look really closely. Perhaps those people planning to stop the plan have a point.

So let’s zoom in on my neighborhood on the map! We live just south of I-90 and just west of Rainier. Unfortunately, the alternative maps are kind of painful to understand. You’d think by looking at “Preferred Alternative” map that there’s a large amount of area being upzoned in my neighborhood. But if you go back and forth between the current zoning and the preferred alternative it becomes a little clear how little there is.

Take these two images. The first is the current zoning, but with the proposed new urban village boundary included. The second is approximately the same region under the “Preferred Alternative”.

image of current zoning, North Beacon Hill / Rainierimage of poposed zoning, North Beacon Hill / Rainier

The urban village expansion mostly just converts single family zoning into “Residential Small Lot” or RSL. The “too long, didn’t read” summary of RSL is that it makes it slightly easier to build duplexes and accessory dwelling units (“granny flats”), assuming the lot is big enough (you can’t build duplexes even in RSL unless you have 2500 square feet each currently though under the new proposed rules it would go to 2000 sq ft each).

Within a five minute walk of our house, there are no blocks that I can find where an existing single family lot is converted to even Lowrise 1 (LR1) zoning. The commercial on Rainier is converted to “Neighborhood Commercial” which is great, but not exactly a huge upzone since you could build housing there already and NC doesn’t really allow greater housing density. The base zoning seems to be largely staying the same, aside from the RSL designations.

The magnitude of change is indicated by the code in parentheses and controls how much affordable housing is “supposed” to be required. You can find a discussion of this in one of the PDFs. But this one table summarizes it:

table summarizing MHA requirements

Now we’re getting somewhere. But what does this mean exactly? Take the “LR2 (M)” zone just to the southwest of the “train” symbol at the intersection of I-90 and Rainier Ave at the very top of the second map above. That’s where I live. It’s currently LR2 and the proposal changes the rules for LR2 to increase the height limit and the allowed FAR1, as well as removing some parking requirements. So that’s an “M” change — the most modest change. If you’re a developer, you’ll be required  to build a certain percentage of rent-restricted affordable units (or pay a fee) in this zone. Figuring out exactly which one applies requires going to Appendix E and determining which area we’re in. Because I now everyone is lazy (I am!), here’s a screenshot of the relevant map:

MHA Areas Map

My neighborhood is clearly in a green zone or “medium.” So that means in my currently LR2 zoned area,  developers will have to build 5% as affordable units or you pay $7 per square foot of the building they do build if not. When you realize what those parentheses mean then all of a sudden the upzone maps seem like they might actually result in slightly more density, but the vast majority of them are “(M)” which is very minor increases. And, of course, it’s only if developers are willing. All of these changes are in areas that are mostly already heavily under development which means even in the (currently) single family zones, the property prices are really high. Will people be willing to sell? Will developers be willing to build affordable units if the property price was really high or will they just pay the fees and build more “luxury” housing?

Those are the worries I have about these zoning changes. On paper, it seems like maybe a lot of change, but in practice I know only a fraction of lots will be developed and only a fraction of those will be developed to a higher density than they could now. After all, my neighborhood has been LR2 for at least a couple decades and there were almost no multi-unit properties when I moved in seven years ago and only maybe 20% are multi-unit now (counting up about two blocks). The main change to LR2 zoning is just 10 more feet in height (see appendix F for details). My neighborhood right now mostly gets three story row or skinny detached houses. Will that extra floor encourage actual apartment buildings? Can they really get that many more units on the same lot sizes in a way that still makes money? They could be building apartment buildings now, but aren’t and I wonder why. Even under the preferred alternative, the EIS only predicts around 5600 affordable units built in the covered areas in twenty years. 😦

But this post is already way too long. If you live in Seattle, have a look at your neighborhood and really try to understand what the proposal means in practice. How many blocks near you could actually allow more density? Is it just due to the height and FAR limits or did the zoning designation actually change? Is your neighborhood like mine where the changes seem very small?


  1. FAR is a super confusing term that gets mentioned a lot in stories about zoning but I don’t think it has any reality to most people. It stands for “floor to area ratio” and is “just” the ratio of built floor area to the area of the lot. That link has a good illustration. The main confusing part to me is that it’s used for all kinds of buildings resulting in very similar looking numbers for vastly different buildings. There are a number of tall skinny buildings in my neighborhood that have FAR values around 1.0. A giant “McMansion” single family home might also have a FAR pretty close to 1.0. In one case it’s skinny buildings with three stories only “occupying” maybe half or a third of the lot at ground level, versus a large two story house that’s has ten feet in back, ten feet in front and like six feet on each side. Visually the two types of buildings look very different. And, of course, the only way we get to greater density is more units, not just greater floor to area ratios, so it’s a very peculiar metric. For example, this new proposal includes LR2 zoning changes to allow, for rowhouses, a FAR of 1.4 rather than 1.3. What does that actually mean in practice? I can’t really visualize it and I suspect I’m a lot more engaged on this topic than most people.

Slightly Demystifying Zoning Not Really

Zoning is one of the big topics in Seattle right now. We’ve been bogged down in a multi-year – I am not joking – process by which we figure out ways we can change zoning and other rules and programs related to housing so that we can make Seattle more affordable and livable. At one point, it looked like we might change the zoning on large swaths of Seattle to re-legalize pretty non-dense, by world city standards, increased housing density in much of the city. That upset a lot of people. So they went back and did some stuff and recently released some recommendations to expand where we (in theory) incentivize more affordable housing with a package of recommended zoning changes to go city-wide with. It includes a very handy map on the proposed increased zoning density and easily lets you compare existing zoning to the original proposals and the new ones.

Here in Seattle, we have a lot of fancy dandy maps. You can see current zoning in an interactive map here or in static PDFs. One thing you’ll immediately note is just how much of Seattle is “Single Family”. This is theoretically one house per lot with a limit on how many unrelated adults can live in the same dwelling. In theory “mother-in-law” units (“accessory dwelling units” or “detached accessory dwelling units”) are allowed, but the restrictions make them very hard to build. Vast portions of the city are zoned for single family but have non-conforming (but grandfathered) features (duplexes, multiple accessory dwelling units). But if you tear them down, you can’t rebuild them the same way.

Anyway, it got me thinking about how one even figures out how things have changed. The house my family lives in is near the future Judkins Park light rail station (opening 2023!) on a lot zoned LR2 or “Lowrise 2” which allows multi-family housing. A number of lots in my neighborhood have had older (and very small) single family homes torn down and turned into row houses or very skinny detached houses. On our little block four lots on either side of the street (out of I think sixteen five years ago) have been turned into these kinds of houses: 15 (if I’ve counted right) new units in place of 4. In a single family zoned area, your only option if you tear down a small old house is to build another house, usually a very large and expensive one and still only housing a single family.

It’s great our neighborhood is getting more density. It’s already within walking distance of lots of great transit (though less so on shops and such). In 2023, it will be a five minute walk to a light rail station (it’s about a 15 minute walk now to Mt Baker or Beacon Hill stations). But it had me wondering: how long has my neighborhood been higher density? How has it changed?

First, here’s a picture of the current zoning in my neighborhood:

screenshot of zoning map

North is up. The future Judkins Park light rail station will be about where the blue I-90 shield is. My family’s house is in that brownish area just to the south and east of that station. The brown is a mixture of LR2 and LR1 zoning. LR2 closer to Rainier (why not LR3?) We’re in LR2. The dark yellow or orange is commercial, specifically C1-40 and C1-65. The latter number indicates the height limit (I think). Despite its name, commercial zones do allow residential buildings. The light yellow is single family, usually SF5000 meaning that (conforming) lots are at least 5000 square feet. If you zoom out a bit, you can see that the strip between Beacon Ave (where Beacon Hill light rail station is) and Rainier Ave (where Mt Baker station is) is overwhelmingly single family, even though pretty much every residence is within a 15 minute walk to one or two stations.

zoomed out zoning map of north beacon hill

In this map, that I-90 shield is at the top. Beacon Hill light rail station is in the lower left quadrant (right about where the text “Beacon Hill Library” is). The Mt Baker light rail station is at the intersection of Rainier Ave and MLK in the lower right (“L King Jr Way S” is all you can see here). In all that light yellow it is really hard to put more than one family per lot (unless it’s already built that way).

Anyway, the new proposed changes, at least in Alternative 3, don’t to my mind substantially change much. The zones that already allow multi-family are upzoned a bit and most single family lots stay the same, sadly. But then I go back to that history question. I knew our lot wasn’t always “Lowrise 2”. It was single family at one point. When did that happen?

Unfortunately, there aren’t handy maps that let me just say “show me zoning in 1990”. There is a map of 1973. You can view the “index” map and then zoom in on your area. We’re in 52W:

zoning_1973_52W

So, in 1973, our lot was what would be today SF5000, just like my neighbors a couple blocks to the south. When did we upzone? This is where the tricks come in. Mike Eliason on twitter helpfully pointed me at the historical zoning page. Then he pointed out the neighorhood plans page which linked to specific ordinances. I started searching ordinances. Straight keyword searches were no good, but then I noticed the “Index Terms from City Clerk’s Thesaurus” box. Oh! Now we’re getting somewhere! The ordinance that increased zone density around the (then future) Beacon Hill light rail station was passed in 1999. The “index terms” for this ordinance are “NORTH-BEACON-HILL, BEACON-HILL, REZONES, NEIGHBORHOOD-PLANS”.

Thus through some trial and error – my part of the neighborhood has various neighborhood names and apparently its indexed under “MOUNT-BAKER” – I was able to find Ordinance 115606, “AN ORDINANCE rezoning portions of the I-90 Area” passed in 1991. There’s a PDF scan of the text. In it, there are maps! My part is LR2 in these maps. But it’s not totally clear – is this all existing zoning and it’s only the variously marked through or stamped over zoning names that indicate changes in zoning? Did it actually change in 1991? It doesn’t seem like it changed at this time.

But there’s some interesting text:

WHEREAS, Ordinance 113858, adopted March 8, 1988, requested the Executive to implement a multi-family work program to develop and analyze permanent amendments to the multifamily code and requested that Executive recommendations include zoning text amendments and legislative mapping changes for the 1-90 area and other areas of the city;

If I poke around at other ordinances indexed with “REZONES” around this time frame, there are a bunch. A bunch of them invoke it being an emergency, mentioning this same ordinance, like this one:

AN ORDINANCE rezoning portions of the Queen Anne Hill neighborhood and declaring an emergency.

WHEREAS, Ordinance 113858, adopted March 8, 1988, enacted interim controls on development in lowrise multi-family residential zones for a period of one year and called for the Executive to implement a multi-family work program to develop and analyze permanent amendments to the multifamily code;

I’m not sure what’s up with the emergency bit. Zoning changes do not seem like an emergency but maybe that was necessary to invoke certain rules? If you poke around in the actual ordinances in 1990/1991, they are mostly little piecemeal downzones. It’s hard to actually screenshot, but have a look at a couple maps:  115512 (Queen Anne), 115197 (North Seattle).

Anyway, let’s go look at ordinance 113858:

AN ORDINANCE adopting City-wide emergency interim controls in the Low Rise 3 (L-3) Low-Rise 2 (L-2) and Low-rise 1 (L-1) multi-family residential zones in the City of Seattle and declaring that emergency conditions exist in those zones throughout the City and by adding a new Section 23.45.0065.

Oh. Interesting. Emergency conditions exist in multi-family residential areas?! I am just going to go copy and paste a whole bunch of this text so you don’t have to go to the PDF because it is amazing (some light editing because the copy/paste is unsurprisingly imperfect):

Section 1. Declaration of Emergency. The City Council of the City of Seattle finds that, since the adoption of the multi-family residential provisions of the Land Use Code in August 1982, new multifamily residential development, evidenced by the number of permits issued and the amount of preissuance activity and inquiries to the City’s Department of Construction and Land Use, has occurred and will continue to occur throughout the City. This development has resulted in unanticipated impacts and conflicts with the City’s planning goals and its overall health, safety and welfare. These impacts and conflict have been manifested in several ways, including the following:

i. New multi-family development throughout the City’s neighborhoods has resulted in achievement of greater densities than were anticipated in the Final Environmental Impact Statement prepared pursuant to the State ‘Environmental Policy Act (11SEPA11) to support the adoption of the multi-family code;

ii. Some neighborhoods of the City are experiencing densities under the multi-family low-rise residential designations which are significantly greater than those permitted under the previous zoning and greater than the capacity which the neighborhoods and available streets and public services can absorb;

iii. In many instances, new multi-family low-rise housing has been constructed which is out of scale with the character of the affected neighborhood;

iv. Higher activity levels within multi-family areas have resulted in additional traffic congestion upon streets with, insufficient capacity, parking shortages in multi-family zones and p king spillover into adjacent zones and neighborhoods, resulting in hazards of poor emergency access and sight distances and increased difficulties for the enforcement of parking codes;

v. The unanticipated greater densities and development potential allowed by the multi-family residential code have in many cases created excessive incentives for rapid demolition and redevelopment leading to the undermining of neighborhood stability. in some cases affordable single-family and multifamily housing has been displaced;

vi. A large number of SEPA appeals of new multi-family developments have been filed by community groups seeking use of the State Environmental Policy Act to control density, bulk and scale, parking and other land use impacts created by development allowed under the existing regulations. These numerous SEPA appeals have served to reduce the certainty of the development allowed under the existing regulations and have evidenced widespread dissatisfaction with the existing regulations.

vii. The City Council has been advised that mapping errors may have occurred in the multi-family rezone process.

THEREFORE, the Council finds that the low-rise residential multifamily code provisions must be reevaluated.

Okay, so back in 1982 they upzoned and now in 1988 folks are very upset that there was actual housing being built in those properties. So they (a) massively limit new construction in those areas of the city, and (b) authorize studying the issue and targeting parts of the city which results in 1990/1991 a bunch of piecemeal downzones. Ironically, of course, this 1988 limit on construction was justified on environmental grounds:

… finds that an exemption under SEPA for this action is necessary to prevent an imminent threat to public health and safety and to prevent an imminent threat of serious environmental degradation through continued development under the existing regulations.

Anyway, I still don’t know when our lot was upzoned to LR2. So let’s go find that 1982 law. I ended up going to a summary list of all 1982 law. The likely candidate here is ordinance 110570. Turns out it isn’t index under “REZONES”. Anyway, the title:

AN ORDINANCE relating to zoning and land use; adding a new Subtitle III to Title 23 of Seattle Municipal Code (Land Use Code) and repealing Section 24.98 to establish platting requirements; adopting an Official Land Use Map for all residential zones; adding a new Chapter 23.45 and new Sections 23.34.36, 23.34.38, 23.34.40, 23.34.42, 23.34.44, 23.34.10, 23.86.12, 23.86.14, 23.86.16, 23.86.18, 23.86.20, 23.86.22 to provide for multi-family zones in Title 23; and amending Sections 23.16.02, 23.30.10, 23.54.10, 23.54.20, 23.54.30, 23.76.06, 23.76.30, 23.84.04, 23.84.06, 23.84.18, 23.84.20, 23.84.30, 23.84.32, 23.84.36, 23.84.38, and 23.86.06 of Title 23 to conform to requirements of the multi-family provisions in Title 23.

It’s a 361 page PDF. Oh my god. It immediately points me at several other ordinances: 110669110793 and 110939. The last one has long tables of “Plat” designations (sections of the city) and their existing zoning and new zoning but these are corrections. Aghhh!

Okay, let’s go back to the historical zoning page. It points to the full record of the 1980 municipal code which does contain maps. In 1980, all the zoning was in title 24. In 1982 it was all re-codified and organized into title 23 and that’s when “Lowrise” appears in ordinance 110381. First, let’s look at 1980. In title 24 of the 1980 code, if I scroll down to the maps and find my “Plat”, it’s clearly still single family, marked “RD 5000”. That becomes “SF 5000”. But back to the various 1982 bills. This is where I get stymied. There’s an Exhibit A which appears to be the new zoning map in 1982 and I can’t find it.

But I’m not sure I need it. It’s clear that by 1991, the zoning was LR2. But the story I’m constructing here is:

  • There was a massive rationalization of zoning in 1982 that simplified the kinds of zones and also increased density in parts of the city.
  • In 1988, people were upset that some changes happened and densities were restricted temporarily.
  • In 1990 and 1991, a bunch lots were downzoned permanently. I’m guessing a lot of the downzones came from community pressure.

That sounds really familiar. As does this summary of community feedback included in one 1991 ordinance:

The Maple Leaf Community Council, and several citizens, have requested Lowrise I for the trailer park site. They are concerned about parking and traffic impacts on the narrow, congested streets in the area, worsening the existing drainage problem, and the lack of transition between more intensive development of the trailer park site and the adjacent low scale residential area.

The property owner wanted their property to remain Midrise. The council downzoned all the way to Lowrise 2. This is what the zoning looks like today:

Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 10.57.12 PM

The lot downzoned in 1991 is still LR2 today (to the east of the center C1-65 area in this image). It still will be under Alternative 3 of the “city-wide” MHA upzones.

But at least I sort of answered my question and learn a bunch about some past attempts to re-zone the city.

Answering a Seattle Budget Question

If you know me, then you know that first I talk about politics way too much and also, especially during the primary, I got kind of annoyed at how often candidates proposed new things to spend money on while not really having the revenue to pay for their proposals (or having revenue sources that won’t pan out for years if ever, like the city income tax). I did some basic searching and concluded that yes, indeed, the city budget has been going up. One thing I liked about Nikkita Oliver in the primary is that she really took the homelessness and housing affordability issues seriously to the degree she was unwilling to tell vocal constituencies like the bike lobby that she wouldn’t consider their favorite projects off limits for budget cuts. Now, I might disagree with any one thing she would want to cut, but I like the attitude.

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to answer a few questions about the Seattle city budget:

  • Has the budget really been going up per capita?
  • … even when adjusted for inflation?
  • How far back? Is it really just the recession decreased spending and now it’s back up?

So I pulled some numbers. Fortunately, the city is pretty transparent about this stuff and it’s fairly easy to get data in fairly consistent ways. I chose to pull the total expenditures in each year’s adopted budget. I chose adopted budget because that’s what the city council and mayor have agreed to spend: it represents what they think is reasonable given the current financial situation. I then pulled data on estimated population for Seattle. The source is ultimately the Census but it’s cobbled from a direct Census page and Google which seems to have ingested their data and made it easier to find for years before 2010 (note estimate is for July in any year). I then used a CPI calculator provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to convert all per capita expenditures to 2017 dollars. Here we are:

seattle_city_budget_per_capita

You can also view my underlying spreadsheet with links to sources and notes about my “methodology”. I originally only went back to 2007 the budget for which was adopted before the great recession (which actually started in December 2007) but then I decided I should probably pull it back a couple more years which is easy enough to do with a spreadsheet. I 💚 spreadsheets! It’s clearly possible (maybe likely since I’m not experienced with budgets) that I did something wrong here, so feel free to tell me. I would really prefer to know what I’m misunderstanding if this is wrong or misleading!

What I want to know now of course is where is that money going? What areas of the budget are we spending more money on? Or is it just many different areas overall? How would we find places to save in the budget to invest in housing and helping people not be homeless?

Seattle Voter Guide, General Election 2017

You can safely skip this post if you don’t care about Seattle politics, don’t care about voting, don’t live in Seattle, just no politics please no no no no no, etc. But if that doesn’t scare you off, read on!

Primary to General!

First up, let’s just include everything from the primary post as all those candidates made it through to the general and are all still folks I am voting for. To summarize:

  • Teresa Mosqueda for City Council Position 8. I did this cool thing with The Evergrey and got to interview Jon Grant and Teresa Mosqueda on “leadership”. They haven’t posted yet, so I don’t want to give too much about the interviews away. The tl;dr for me is that I came out of it liking Grant more than I had previously and I believe some ideas I had about his leadership style that I considered negatives were incomplete … but not enough to vote for him over Teresa Mosqueda. While I continue to find a lot of the rhetoric and “contrast-making” happening in this race distasteful, and definitely think Mosqueda is stellar, it is not some bitter outcome if my preferred candidate doesn’t win (edited Sunday, Oct 29th, see addendum). Teresa does still preferentially say “kiddos” to refer to our children and I feel that is absolutely critical for good feeling and collegial spirit at boring city council meetings. 🙂
  • Lorena González for Position 9, duh. There was honestly no one else in the race, even in the primary, who had the depth of experience, policy, and proven effectiveness as Lorena.
  • Dow Constantine for King County Executive, duh.
  • Rebecca Saldaña for 37th LD state senate, but she’s running unopposed so that’s probably obvious. Also she’s pretty awesome and has been spending tons of her time campaigning and advocating for candidates all over her district and South King County helping especially first time candidates run and getting the vote out for them. If you live in the 37th, she’s doing GOTV events and a few minutes with Rebecca really helps make one believe in workable government.
  • Zach DeWolf still for school board director 5. He’s still awesome. Everyone I know loves him.
  • My choices for Port of Seattle Commissioners remain unchanged: Preeti Sridhar, Ahmed Abdi and Ryan Calkins. I had a great conversation with Ryan last week about creating a school pipeline (from high school into technical college) aiming kids into in-demand maritime, aerospace and “green” jobs that are more on the “trade” side of things than the “university” side which sounds really awesome and I hope we get to see where that goes.

New Races!

The way state law works for elections in (technically) non-partisan races, if there are only two or fewer candidates who file, then they skip the primary and are only on the general election ballot. So there are a few of those, plus a ballot measure and the other two school board races.

School Board

For the other two races I’m voting for:

  • Eden Mack. She’s been working on education a long while and has a ton of ties to the community and knows how to work with government. She co-founded Washington’s Paramount Duty which is a coalition of people who’ve been working tirelessly to fix state funding of education. Why wouldn’t we want someone on school board who understands how badly education funding is and can help the school district make the best of things?
  • Betty Patu is the incumbent but that’s okay. She’s very well trusted by a lot of folks on the south side so while I don’t know a lot about her or have needed to work with her, having that kind of trust from parents is really important for a school board member.

City Attorney

For reasons I can’t exactly fathom, we elect a city attorney who has an office devoted to legal stuff (“legal services”) for the mayor and the city. I support Pete Holmes because he’s doing a good job and it doesn’t seem like the kind of role where I believe in throwing someone out of office except for gross failures (much how I feel about judges). But I also have a little story. My ability and desire to be politically involved has varied a lot. At once point I thought I could help with petition signing and went to some training for the marijuana legalization effort. Pete Holmes was there and spoke about why it was so important that we get marijuana legalized. My mind was blown that a city attorney who presumably is very law and order would be supporting an effort to properly legalize it (which has long seemed obvious what with it being far less harmful than alcohol). It turns out I find gathering signatures for petitions intolerably awkward and never gathered all that many (I almost broke down crying at one point at the U district farmers market), but I’m still glad I tried if only because Pete Holmes helped make me less cynical.

Judges

We elect judges. They have to campaign, a little bit, and I think it’s kind of weird. Anyway, I really liked California’s system where judges were appointed and we merely voted to retain a judge which seems like if a judge really was messing up, you could mount what is essentially a recall election. But we don’t have that, so we vote on judges. These ones are pretty simple. In one position on my ballot, “Court of Appeals, Division 1, District 1, Judge Position 5”, there’s only David Mann. I’ve only had brief conversations with him, but he seems fine. The other judge race is “Court of Appeals, Division 1, District 1, Judge Position 2”. Michael Spearman is who I voted for here. I’ve actually met him and have some idea what he’s done … the other guy not so much.

King County Sheriff

This one has been an ugghhhhhh for me. The incumbent John Urquhart has a pile of allegations and rumors (of sexual assault, him covering up or ignoring workplace sexual harassment and gendered discrimination) and “maybe this was mishandled on his part, maybe it wasn’t, sure is hard to say”. At some point, it feels like ultimately something is there. Moreover, in this climate I feel like it’s reasonable to just not vote for someone you think might have mistreated women or non-white people, despite his otherwise fairly awesome record (he has actually fired cops who violated people’s rights). But the straw, for me, is that he joked about arresting our socialist city council member Kshama Sawant at a Republican party event. Now it’s fine that he was at a Republican party event — county sheriff is non-partisan and anyway he should be talking to everyone — and I even understand making jokes about the “Seattle socialist” to separate himself from her to such an audience, though it’s still kind of gross. What I don’t hold with is joking about arresting people. When the police arrest a person, even if they are quickly released and no charges filed, that is still the State using its power to constrain an individual’s liberty with force (even if the arrest is relatively calm and non-violent). It is a failure of society as a whole whenever the police are “forced” to arrest someone. It means whatever conflict was happening, the only immediate solution to keep it from getting out of hand, was to force individuals to do something they didn’t want to do, with the threat of force. Now a lot of the time when the police arrest people it really is probably necessary, such as a person who is suspected of committing violent crime (or in the middle of it!) But it’s never a joking matter. It means we failed as a society, even if it was a failure that happened twenty years before the arrest when a kid was born into poverty and abuse and didn’t get the same start that many of us get. Arresting folks isn’t a joking matter. The sheriff joking about it shows a cavalier attitude towards the underlying meaning of his office.

So, I just can’t bring myself to vote for him. His opponent, Mitzi Johanknecht, has good experience within the office so I don’t feel she’s a bad choice in terms of competence and preparedness for the role. I am concerned that she’s wishy-washy on sanctuary cities and has come out against community health engagement locations (aka “safe consumption sites” or in the inflammatory language “safe injection sites” or worse). My feeling is that her positions on those subjects is more about gaining support from people who, unfortunately, are worried about those things (we have a lot of work to do to help there be fewer folks who are against these policies), but in any case, the county sheriff doesn’t get to decide those policies and thus will be constrained by circumstance. I trust the King County Council and Executive to make sure their policies are carried out properly.

King County Proposition 1, Levy Lid Lift for Veterans, Seniors and Vulnerable Populations

This is a smallish property tax levy, replacing an expiring levy with a slight increase. I’m kind of tired of property taxes being all we have for this stuff, and people, even in my “liberal” district are justifiably tired of how we fund things, but I can’t just bring myself to vote against something that is currently helping some of the most vulnerable people in the county. It’s like $37 a year for my family’s home which is actually above the average for a property in King County.

Some Quick Pleas

I’ve been paying a lot of much more detailed attention to the mechanics of politics the last year. How are campaigns run? How do candidates and elected officials gain support to make it easier to enact policy? What are the major fault lines in our region (both on actual policy and personalities and coalitions)? How do endorsements work (when are they bullshit? why do they matter?) My fascination with the mechanics has only made me proxy-exhausted for the candidates and campaign workers.

Campaigns run on contributions in time and money. If you like some candidate (even ones I didn’t vote for — boo, hiss!), please consider supporting that candidate with more than just your vote. Even a few dollars is one less fundraising call they have to make so they can do something else which might just be yet another fundraising call, but might mean more time to talk to voters.

Seattle Mayor

So many words. You may have noticed I left off mayor till now. I put it in here at the end to make you read the paragraphs above. But I’m a tease. I’m not going to say which candidate to vote for. It will be fine either way. I have my reasons for my vote, but it’s such a mixed bag and it takes too many words to explain and there’s just so much tension around this race with inflammatory and exaggerated nonsense. Plus jeez, there are so many forums where they talk about the same policy positions over and over that aren’t really that far apart (by outside Seattle standards) that you’d think that one or both would have evaporated in frustration. Anyway, here’s a couple “pick your candidate” policy quizzes from Crosscut and the Seattle Times if you haven’t been paying stupid amounts of attention (like me). I basically got half each candidate on both quizzes which is about what I expected. The Evergrey will be publishing some interviews from them both for their Leadership Lab and, while I didn’t participate in those interviews, I suspect they will be very interesting.

Anyway, vote. If you want me to talk too long at you about the mayor’s race or anything else, find me in person. But better yet, don’t waste your time on silliness and go help take back the state senate by volunteering for Michelle Rylands or Manka Dhingra. 🙂


Additional Comment (posted October 29th)

Frustratingly, a few days ago I happened to read a profile of the position 8 candidates in Real Change News. It was mostly nothing I hadn’t read before. But one answer from Grant, combined with other nonsense going on (that’s a great piece from Hanna Olsen), made me just viscerally react. Grant was asked why him, given he’s white, straight, etc. and he answered:

“When I sat down with my opponent very early on and I put it out there on the table that I could drop out of this race. If we were going to be the exact same on issues I care most about, in particular housing and police accountability, I don’t have a reason to be here. What became clear through the course of those conversations and through the course of the ensuing debates prior to the filing deadline was that my opponent was not willing to adopt strong positions on housing and a lot of it has to do with her connections to a lot of these powerful players. So I don’t think we need another lobbyist on City Council.”

He answered primarily by minimizing Mosqueda’s work and non-specifically attacking her housing positions as not strong because of her “connections”. He could have mentioned specific policies without impugning Mosqueda’s reasons for having them. Or specific examples of why his way of working is more effective. But instead, he chose to dismiss his opponent’s achievements. If Mosqueda has been a lobbyist, then so has Grant (“in Olympia” even!) But of course most voters don’t read “lobbyist” and think “advocate for children and workers”. Most folks when they hear “lobbyist” are thinking corporate suits who convince legislators to pass laws that help the richest and most powerful. That would be exactly opposite what Mosqueda is. Grant knows that. Now, of course, if Mosqueda were a “he”, Grant might still have made this attack. No doubt he doesn’t think this answer comes off as sexist, but to me it just reflects yet another case of a woman having to prove it over and over. Grant knows that gender roles and perceptions are relevant in this race. He could have made this point without making it an attack on a woman’s achievements. But he did.

I don’t think Seattle will somehow degenerate if Mosqueda loses: I think the people and groups who asked her to run will continue to push for what’s good for everyone. Ultimately that matters more than who wins one election. But I’m not sure I won’t be bitter about it because it seems like no matter what, even in a city that’s willing to elect women to public office over and over, even a male candidate who claims he’s trying to do better either can’t resist making an attack on a woman’s experience or doesn’t even realize he’s making one. Fortunately, I’ve become very competent at channeling bitterness into action: I just came back from my 16th time knocking on doors since May. Yes, I’m keeping score. Well, actually a calendar. Bitterness will do that. I’ve had nearly a year of the most incompetent president whose ever been in the office. And he got there, at least in part, because downplaying and questioning women’s accomplishments is routine and unremarkable.

Money in politics, promises and trust

Yesterday, former Seattle mayor and recent candidate Mike McGinn tweeted about recent political committee donations in our mayor’s race:

I’ve been there so you can trust me on this. Corporations don’t write big checks like this without firm promises first. Lets review (1)

He then had a many tweet thread about the problems of money in politics and some local political alignments. I’ve been kind of stewing about it. Most of the folks I follow in Seattle politics are Moon supporters, so partly I am just seeing an ever increasing stream of Durkan criticism which wears after a while, even when you don’t particularly care about the candidate. But I couldn’t really figure out what it was.

The thread popped up (again) this morning and I realized the problem for me is that phrase “firm promises” and what it says about our political discourse. I’ve been reading the Wellstone campaign book and it reminds you:

The truth is that those of us who care passionately about politics— who write and read books on how to win elections, for example— are not normal.

Charitably, I realize that all McGinn is trying to say is that the political decision makers at these corporations perceive their business interests to be aligned with Durkan’s apparent policies and likely style of governance. No one (well, maybe a very few) believe that she promised anything she wasn’t saying publicly because someone who works at the Chamber of Commerce promised to help her win the election. It was obvious from Day 1 of her campaign that she was positioning herself as the centrist (for Seattle), moderate, “get things done but not too extreme or fast or disruptive to established interests” candidate. She’s well-known to many political figures at all levels of government and business. They know how to work with her. She touts her association with Obama who is also that kind of politician.

But this post is not about Durkan exactly or her policy positions, but rather as an example of something that happens in politics. I do not care all that much about the mayor’s race: I think whoever wins will do no worse and probably a fair bit better than our last few mayors but I am not personally “in love” with either candidate. Probably we can blame the worst primary ever for that. In any case, Seattle is in good hands with a great city council and nothing about this election will change that much. The rest of the state is not so lucky so if you want to stop reading this navel-gazing now and go volunteer to flip the state senate (or whatever the critical campaign is in your part of the world), that’s probably a better use of your time.

This tweet and this style of discourse about money in politics reads as if politicians are literally out there being bribed to change their positions. As if Durkan, somehow, would actually be an outright socialist but, shucks, the business lobby agreed to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to help elect her, so her hands are tied. You may not like her or her policy positions, but she’s not actually taking orders from the Chamber. But if you aren’t someone who thinks a lot about politics — go read that Wellstone book quote again — I think you could be forgiven if you thought that’s what McGinn (and many others) are implying if not outright saying.

I think a lot of people genuinely believe that politicians are often that corrupt. That the majority of politicians are scheming in backrooms with moneyed interests to screw the little guy — not because they are ideologically aligned, but just for pure personally self-interested reasons. I don’t think that’s true and I doubt you do if you’ve ever talked to an actual elected official or candidate for office in person for more than ten seconds. To the last of them, even ones I wildly disagreed with, have credibly evinced a desire to do what they think is right for the city (state, country).

I think we do a disservice when we simplify the conflicts in the mayor’s race (or any political contest) to being just about business or corporate interests versus the good steward of the people. We aren’t taking people at face value which harms our ability to make connections and agreements. If you look at their policy positions, the mayoral candidates just aren’t that different. All that money from business and labor and, quite honestly, lots of “regular folks”, flowing into one campaign is about more than just corporate interests crowning their champion. I’ve seen this at Democratic party meetings watching both mayoral candidates’ supporters, all of whom are passionately devoted to their candidate. I have my ideas about what I think is going on and it’s certainly more interesting than the leaders of SEIU 775 supposedly being “foolish” to align with Comcast in supporting a candidate “obviously” harmful to their workers’ interests.

There are a lot of people in the city (and state) supporting Durkan and it’s just not useful to treat them as dupes or fools, if we want to build long-term sustainable change. Would you want to work with people who persist in saying you’re stupid or a dupe? But calling people stupid is what I see a lot of Seattle political wags doing right now. I would say progressives but that’s apparently a dirty word now. 😉 Maybe we could be as critical of people being disdainful as we are of their use of the word progressive.