Only Nikkita Oliver and Bob Hasegawa measure up in race for Mayor

by John Fox –

Ballots are mailed out Wednesday for the August 1st primary and it’s a critical election for Seattle’s future.  Even though elections are probably far from your mind – only about 30-35% of you will take time to vote in an ‘off-year’ primary – Seattle is in a hotly contested race for Mayor and our remaining two ‘at large’ or citywide council races.

We’ve either interviewed or closely reviewed where candidates stand, especially front-runners, across the critical issues affecting our neighborhoods, and on racial and economic justice issues, housing and land use, homelessness, police accountability and ensuring equity and fairness for all in our city.  Here are our endorsements.

(Following this column, we’ve posted Neil Power’s interview with Oliver and reprinted our earlier interview with Hasegewa.)

The Race for Mayor:  Nikkita Oliver or Bob Hasegawa

Among the six frontrunners, only Bob Hasegawa and Nikkita Oliver measured up. Both were seriously willing to call for reassessment of the so-called Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) upzones. Both backed increasing the developer’s mandatory affordable housing set-aside to 25% of new units rather than the current paltry 2-11%. They gave unqualified support for requiring developers to pay impact fees for a portion of the infrastructure demanded by their projects. And they would require developers to replace at comparable price any existing low-cost housing they remove.

Both Hasegawa and Oliver favored decisions derived from the bottom up over technocratic and elitist solutions. Both called for a re-establishment of the District Neighborhood Council system and pledged to make sure it was more broadly representative and racially diverse, not arrogantly eliminated. Both supported new measures to preserve tree canopy, and older historic and culturally significant buildings and places like Chinatown/International District and Little Saigon now in the wrecking ball’s crosshairs.

Both were critical of the Mayor’s insensitive sweeping of homeless encampments and understood the connection between the continuing loss of existing low-income housing to redevelopment and the rise of homelessness in our city. Both questioned the propriety of spending $200 million dollars for a new youth jail and called for a closer look at alternatives to incarceration. Both understood the treatment-first model and the importance of diversion programs over jail.

The other frontrunners, Jenny Durkan, Cary Moon, Mike McGinn, and Jessyn Farrell, all unreservedly support the HALA upzones. All are “supply siders” who believe that by adding to the supply of expensive housing, somehow affordable units will “trickle down” to the poor. As Joe Hill, the great labor organizer, said, “There’ll be pie in the sky when you die.”

None of these four candidates expressed any great concern about the continuing loss of existing low-cost housing to demolition. In their minds, displacement and gentrification are addressed by spending more tax dollars on low-income units while pressing the accelerator on more market-rate development.

Moon saw the need for some kind of speculator or foreign investor tax, however, and McGinn, Moon, and Farrell have given a qualified “yes” on questionnaires when asked about developer impact fees. But by and large, electing any one of the four is a vote for the status quo.

Durkan has been anointed by the establishment and big business to carry their mantle – raising $321,000 mostly from this crowd (outspending her nearest competitor 3-1).  As if that wasn’t enough, the the Chamber and Hospitality industry just dropped $50,000 into their ‘PAC’ to back her.  

Moon, Farrell, and McGinn are fighting for the “urbanist vote”, those who think density is a religion. Never mind we’re drowning in it now or that it’s destroying the livability and affordability of our city.

McGinn, says he’s mellowed but this is the guy who as Mayor shamelessly handed millions of our tax dollars over to Vulcan in South Lake Union, did nothing to stop demolition of low cost housing and consequent rise in homelessness, and, at the request of a handful of developers, scuttled the Roosevelt Neighborhood Plan that took them a decade to develop.

District 8:  Jon Grant

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In the race for this open seat, Jon Grant has called for substantial increase in the mandatory housing set-aside to 25%. The other putative frontrunner, Teresa Mosqueda, says she cares about the homeless and about racial and economic inequality, but then on land use and zoning and housing matters she shows a density-at-all-costs pro-development mentality regardless of the impacts. And if you would like to return to the politics of a councilmember like Richard Conlin–defeated a few years ago when voters tired of his consistently pro-downtown and special interest-driven agenda–then vote for Sara Nelson.

While we like Sheley Secrest’s stance on HALA and the upzones and her strong positions on police accountability and racial justice, her lack of campaign dollars likely precludes her ability to get her message out and get through to the final. In this race, we believe Grant has a chance to win while offering our neighborhoods and tenants the best chance for progressive and responsive change.

District 9:  Anybody but Gonzalez

It’s hard for us to imagine any candidate having a chance against Lorena Gonzalez who now holds this seat. With a growing war chest funded by downtown and developer interests, she’ll likely outdistance all the others combined when primary votes are counted. Unfortunately, she’s zealously pro-HALA, pro-developer and pro-upzone, second only perhaps to current District 4 Councilmember Rob Johnson. She only shows up at Land Use and Housing Committee meetings to vote as desired by her developer pals. Gonzalez’s campaign will shower voters with warm and fuzzy mailings featuring big-shot endorsements, while her opponents, lacking funds for even one direct mailing, will barely register in the minds of voters.


City wants to eviscerate design review for neighborhood scale projects – Comments due Monday, July 10

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Expect fewer public notices if design review “improvements” are approved.

The City is proposing design review “improvements,” but depending on which camp you are in you may not see these changes as improving anything.  The city’s proposed changes would effectively eliminate design review from neighborhood sized projects, basically telling everyday residents of Seattle, we don’t want to hear your voice and telling developers they are free to do whatever they want.  So beware when a candidate or city official tells you they are a fan of “streamlined design review.”  The reality is removing your voice from the conversation.

You know what most the design reviews I’ve been to are about?  Trying to get the developers to just follow the damn rules.  Because there is this lovely thing called a “departure,” which means the developer politely asks the city if they can break the rules and not follow building code.  And now, they want to do this out of the eyes of the public.

For example, if the code says there should be a 10 foot setback from the property line, but the developers have a really good reason why they simply must build to the property line, that would be a “departure.”  Or the code says the upper floors should be set back to allow some light to reach the neighboring home, but the developers much prefer the extra square footage they get with a sheer 50 foot wall, and they aren’t really concerned that its abutting a single family home.  Or how about just a little common neighborly decency?  Like the design review where the developers of a 50 unit apartment building wanted to put their dumpsters right next to the window of a legal backyard cottage.  

These are all real examples of what happens at a design review.  They are not stopping development.  Just look around you, buildings are going up at a dizzying pace.  It just gives neighbors a second to say to the city and the developers, “Hey, would you want to live next to that?”  Which in an ideal world, developers would be doing anyway.  But in the commercial environment we are living in, unfortunately profits are often more of a concern than quality of life for the people around them.

So please take a moment and write a letter.  I will leave you with an excerpt from the Wallingford Community Council’s website, which includes a sample letter at the end.  If you would like to see the full call to action please click here:

Wallingford Community Council "Kite Hill" logo

Proposed changes that impact neighborhoods include:

  • Removing neighborhoods from the process by replacing language such as:
    • “Neighborhood priorities among the design guidelines” with “identify guideline priorities”.
    • “Highest priority to the neighborhood” with “highest priority to the Board”.
  • Exempting projects on properties of less than 10,000 square feet from any design review. In the past 2 years, 29% of projects were in this category. For perspective: most four story apartment buildings are on properties of less than 10,000 square feet.
  • Restricting the scope of the Design Review Process:
    • Administrative – Developments inside Urban Villages get Administrative Design Review, with no public meetings, if less than 20,000 square feet.
    • Hybrid – Developments up to 20,000 square feet (or larger inside an Urban Village) would require only the Design Review Board “Recommendation” meeting and not the “Early Design Guidance” meeting.
    • Full – Only the largest developments, over 20,000 square feet, and only outside Urban Village boundaries, would require the normal Design Review Board “Early Design Guidance” and “Recommendation” meetings.
  • Revising who is a stakeholder by changing straightforward terms such as “Developers” to more generic terms like “Project Proponents”.
  • Shifting responsibility and authority from the Design Review Board to the Director. This has the effect of making Design Review Boards less independent, and will make the Board positions less attractive to the professionals who volunteer their time.
  • Granting departures from design guidelines without public review.

Submit your comments by Monday July 10, 5:00 PM to William Mills, Land Use Planner Supervisor, at or by mail to:
City of Seattle, SDCI
Attn: William Mills
PO Box 94788
Seattle, WA 98124-7088

Please send your comments to the City Council by phone, 206-684-8888, or by email:

Please submit your comments to Mayor Murray:

Your input DOES MATTER!  Last year, due to comments and push-back from all over the city, the proposed changes were tabled until now.

Feel free to send version of these suggested comments:

I oppose the amendments to the Land Use Code (Title 23 SMC) to modify the design review process. 

The Design Review Process is meant to bring three perspectives together, the developer, the designer, and the community. The proposed changes drastically reduce the involvement of the community, creating an imbalance of input. Without the checks and balances of inclusive design review, growth can destroy neighborhoods. With them, they strengthen the character and quality of the neighborhood while adding housing & commercial spaces. 

I oppose the proposal to eliminate design review for developments under 10,000 square feet within Seattle (a four story apartment house is under 10,000 square feet). I live in Seattle, and I believe this, combined with the proposed Grand Bargain HALA MHA upzones and new zoning definitions for almost all of the residential zones and neighborhood commercial zone, will lead to an unchecked and un-reviewed redevelopment frenzy in my neighborhood.

When combined with the Grand Bargain HALA MHA upzone and new zoning definitions, this rule change will allow 40+ foot tall, zero-lot-line developments to appear next to single-family homes without any kind of notice, review, or public hearing. This type of development will negatively impact the livability and quality of the city. The community has a right to participate in the approval process. I ask that you prevent these rule changes from occurring.

Please leave the Design Process as is, and instead, direct the city to start enforcing design guidelines. Too many departures are being granted, too many setback requirements are being ignored, and too many loopholes are being exploited due to poor enforcement.

Learn more about the draft recommendations here:

Design Review Program Improvements, Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI).
Draft Ordinance (PDF format).