News stories proclaim Seattle one of the nation’s most progressive cities because we just elected Mayor Ed Murray, a gay man, and City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, a socialist. And we’re flirting with the idea of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
All that’s good to be sure, but there’s much more to do.
Thanks to the change to district elections, if all of us at the grassroots level mobilize around a focused neighborhood agenda — one clearly addressing felt needs and capturing the imagination of folks — incumbent city councilmembers either will support it, or they’ll cede their seats to newcomers who do.
Now is not the time to politely request this or that of our elected officials. It’s time to insist upon the whole ball of wax. This should be our mantra, demanded at all city council hearings, forums, workshops and committee meetings:
• Establish a moratorium on issuing residential construction permits in all neighborhoods where rates of growth already exceed levels needed to meet their 2024 regional growth targets.
• Suspend all plans to increase the zoning regulations of properties, called upzoning, in our neighborhoods, especially in areas experiencing runaway growth: Ballard, Capitol Hill, Lake City, Fremont, West Seattle Junction, the University District and much of the rest of Seattle have reached up to 300 percent of neighborhood 2024 targets. Yet city officials encourage still more development.
• Impose impact fees to ensure that developers share the extraordinary costs of upgrading basic infrastructure needed to keep pace with the record levels of growth. Instead of car-tab fees or other regressive fees or taxes, charge developers to cover costs of more sidewalks, park maintenance, road and bridge repairs, school improvements and increased electrical capacity and bus service. Every city in the region except Seattle makes use of impact fees.
Until this system is adopted, retain the moratorium on residential permits and upzones and cease giving unelected bureaucrats broad taxing authority through metropolitan park districts.
• Require any developer tearing down low-income housing to replace those units one-for-one, and give low-income tenants the first right to purchase their apartments before they’re sold to developers.
• Dedicate $10 million in city revenue to a special fund for tenants to purchase their apartments and turn them into cooperatives and land trusts.
• Direct the city’s newly hired Olympia lobbyist to push for changes in state law, allowing Seattle to impose rent control.
• Implement transparency in city budgeting and ensure an equal distribution of Seattle’s $1 billion budget to all districts and neighborhoods.
• Break down city budget by district, and prioritize multibillion-dollar backlog of neighborhood needs.
We don’t need more downtown boondoggles like stadiums or projects in South Lake Union like the Mercer Corridor. And we want an end to developer giveaways like the multifamily tax exemption, which provides an exemption to developers who set aside 20 percent of their units for moderate-wage workers, costing city taxpayers more than $200 million since 2010.
• Adopt tough, new development requirements to protect our city’s declining tree canopy and fragile urban streams. Seattle’s Urban Forest Management Plan will never meet its goals if the city won’t put the brakes on relentless development.
For the first time in years, marginalized constituencies — neighborhoods, housing and homeless advocates, communities of color, working people, small businesses — have an opportunity to make real change at City Hall.
But it won’t happen unless we all organize effectively and insist upon what now is a truly winnable progressive and populist agenda.
Our progressive values need to translate into passage of a new set of land-use and housing policies. As long as people making below median income are pushed out of where they live by upzoning, demolition and speculative sale, we won’t have a fair or equitable society in Seattle.