OUTSIDE CITY HALL | 2013's political scene looks to improve on last year's

As we head into 2013, we thought we’d partake in the common practice of looking back over the last year’s “best” and “worst” events on the local political scene. Then, so as not to leave readers too depressed, we’ll offer our predictions for what we believe will be a much better year. 


Our picks

Best — Mandated paid sick leave took effect in Seattle, as a result of city legislation passed a year earlier. Seattle workers in businesses with four or more employees now no longer need to worry about losing pay or a job when taking time off for sickness or to care for a family member. 

Worst — The Seattle City Council and Mayor Mike McGinn thumbed their noses at Roosevelt residents, giving the go-ahead to view-blocking towers around Roosevelt High School that also will butt right up against single-family neighborhoods. 

No matter that the neighborhood supported other planned upzones and Roosevelt already has growth in excess of targets. No matter that their 10-year-old neighborhood plan called for lower densities in that area and hundreds turned out at public hearings to oppose the change.

Best — A determined band of community activists, mostly from Capitol Hill, successfully turned back zoning changes designed to expand commercial uses and add densities in lower-density residential zones across the city. 

This victory signals a reemergence of neighborhood power in Seattle and demonstrates that, when sufficiently riled and well-organized, grassroots activists can still trump the pro-developer, pro-density lobby. 

Worst — Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) got the permits from City Council for a remake (“destruction” is a better word) of the Yesler Terrace public-housing Project without requiring SHA to replace all 561 very-low-income units and allowing SHA to raid the state low-income housing trust fund and the city housing levy to help finance the project. 

Best — The City Council (thanks largely to Nick Licata’s persistence) approved a mandatory rental-housing-code inspection program. The law guarantees that every rental unit will be licensed and inspected over a 10-year period, ensuring safe and sanitary living for more than 140,000 Seattle households (now a majority of all city households). 

Low-income households and people of color will especially benefit.


More of the worst

King County and Seattle officials approved a new basketball arena in SODO that will cost taxpayers millions.

Our mayor and City Council committed more than $10 million to plan for an $800 million streetcar system when we can’t even afford to fix our roads, bridges and sidewalks.

King County cut bus service and eliminated the downtown free-ride zone.

Our mayor and City Council pushed state legislation allowing future car-tab hikes without a public vote, despite voters saying “no” to car-tab hikes in 2010. 

And they are forging ahead with a $3 billion to $4 billion waterfront tunnel that will carry 30-percent fewer commuters.

Our mayor resisted U.S. Department of Justice police reforms.

The mayor and City Council’s continued to kowtow to Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc. in South Lake Union.


Predictions and wishes

The renewed strength of the neighborhoods will manifest itself this fall, when residents vote overwhelmingly to replace our current system of at-large City Council elections with seven council members elected by district and two at-large.

It’s unlikely any of the four incumbent council members will be unseated, in part because credible challengers know that, in an at-large election system, it’s almost impossible to beat a well-heeled incumbent. 

But our current mayor will be shown the door. Voters will replace him with Peter Steinbrueck, who’ll promptly appoint a transition team of neighborhood and social-justice activists to recommend a revamp of who runs city departments. New heads will be appointed that put our communities, low-income and working people first. 

Our new mayor will:

•Cancel $100 million in city funding, reworking the west portion of Mercer Street, to be used instead to retrofit the Magnolia Bridge (now in danger of collapse);

•Veto planned upzones in every neighborhood already with excess capacity and that’s exceeding its growth targets (meaning just about every neighborhood); 

•Push Metro bus transit to reopen the free-ride zone;

•Divert the $10 million now committed to planning for streetcar expansion and call for developer-impact fees to pay for bridge and road repairs and sidewalks; and

•Call for a clear and explicit tolerance policy for homeless encampments, including car camping, and propose millions more in the budget for shelters. 

Sponsored by City Councilmembers Licata, Tom Rasmussen and Bruce Harrell, new legislation will require developers to replace one-for-one all low-income housing they remove, and the city’s multifamily tax-break developer-giveaway program will be abolished. 

Our City Council will establish a true citizen/police accountability board — the only way to effectively implement the Department of Justice’s order and prevent unwarranted use of force and ensure bias-free policing.

Some of these wishes may be far-fetched, but it doesn’t hurt to dream….

JOHN V. FOX and CAROLEE COLTER are coordinators for the Seattle Displacement Coalition (www.zipcon.net), a low-income housing organization. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.

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