When voters passed a bill in 2013 that created a district-seat system within city council, all nine councilmember positions became up for grabs. For those living “from Green Lake to Golden Gardens,” Seattleites Catherine Weatbrook and current Councilmember Mike O’Brien are your candidates running to represent neighborhoods within District 6.
Both have experience working with a wide variety of communities in Seattle: O’Brien was first elected to the city council in 2009; Weatbrook, a former software engineer, has been on the Ballard District Council and a variety of community boards. Both have lived with their families in the district for little more than 20 years. And both believe the housing and transportation crises are the most pressing issues people in Seattle are facing — and no one is arguing with them there.
So where do they differ? It’s all in the details.
Incumbent O’Brien has had experience with large issues in the city spotlight. The “Grand Bargain” recommendations that came out of Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda’s (hala’s) contested proposal was introduced by O’Brien and Mayor Ed Murray, which brings commercial linkage fees to the table. These fees would require developers to pay the city to fund affordable housing.
“If someone were to appoint me king, and give me complete power of the system, I would probably make the hala recommendations go further. But it’s a very bold set of recommendations, and I’m not king,” explained O’Brien.
“What this set of recommendations represents is a series of compromises that, I think combined, are very powerful in what they can achieve.”
Weatbrook agrees there are some points that she believes are helpful, including the extension of the multifamily tax exemption for developers who set aside 20 percent of rent-restricted homes. However, Weatbrook is quick to emphasize the need to include the rebuilding of what has been destroyed to preserve existing affordable housing in the city.
“Right now we destroy more affordable housing units, every year, than we build. And that’s been going on for 10 years,” Weatbrook said at the District 6 debate. “We need to get very aggressive about when units turn over and have a fund to acquire those properties.”
Tent encampments have been a widely debated issue in Ballard — where a site was selected for city-regulated encampments after the city council passed an ordinance in early 2015. O’Brien is in favor of encampments and of expanding Road to Housing, a program he started four years ago that supports those living in their vehicles.
Weatbrook stands by tent encampments as well, but has concerns. “It built needless animosity, and I think it put the next housing levy in jeopardy,” said Weatbrook on the process of selecting the site for tent encampments, and the tension caused by what some Ballard residents felt as a lack of involvement in the process.
“We are in a society that’s very fickle about some visual things, and I think blue tents will put people off. But we have a population of homeless in the streets of Ballard already,” Weatbrook said. She thinks more is needed, besides tent encampments, that’s not being discussed, and that focusing on “the ones that we have” is better than bringing in those experiencing homelessness from other neighborhoods.
When it comes to transportation and the Move Seattle levy (the $900 million 10-year plan introduced in March 2015), O’Brien is in support of the package and of investing in a variety of transportation options, citing high-quality access to transit as a means of lessening the overall cost of living in the city. “Building transit is expensive on the front-end, but the reality is, it’s so much more cost-effective for people when they have reliable transit, and they don’t have to pay for their car or use their car on a daily basis.”
In addition to safety regarding pedestrians and bicyclists, freight is a matter of importance to Weatbrook, who believes the city should have a plan that specifically tackles freight. She believes her engineering background can be useful in terms of “optimizing corridors” in the city, ensuring grade-separation and planning for future growth.
“I fundamentally believe I can do a better job in this district than Mike can. He’s got some grand plans, and that’s fine,” said Weatbrook, “but I don’t have any intentions of going anywhere else. This is not a stepping stone for me.” Weatbrook’s focus on neighborhood issues is important to her campaign, and she argues that O’Brien emphasizes city-wide issues.
O’Brien believes his personal ties to the area compel his work for the betterment of the neighborhoods that make up District 6, but doesn’t disagree with Weatbrook. “I believe it’s important as a council member to not only represent the district we’re in, but to represent the people throughout the city of Seattle. We’re a city, not [just] neighborhoods.”
O’Brien acknowledges that despite his experience in the council, he still feels new and is still learning. “I’m really proud of the body of work, and I’ve accomplished that when I’m just learning,” he said. “What can I do in the next four years with even more experience?”
O’Brien, who received 12,430 votes in the primary, leads in campaign contributions with $75,541. Weatbrook received 4,680 votes, and her campaign contributions total $46,766 so far.