Replay and recap: The Mayoral transportation and housing forum

From left: Mike McGinn (speaking), Jessyn Farrell, Nikkita Oliver, Bob Hasegawa, Cary Moon, Jenny Durkan. Erica C Barnett (far right) moderated. Former candidate Andres Salomon (far left) looks on.

Did you know there’s a primary August 1? That’s not very far away. So if you haven’t been paying attention to the open Seattle Mayoral and City Council Position 8 races, now is the time to get caught up.

The deadline to register or change your address online is July 3. That’s the Monday sandwiched into a potentially very long weekend, so don’t wait. In-person voter registration ends July 24. Ballots will be mailed July 14.

Seattle Neighborhood Greenways and a long list of partners hosted a candidate forum focused on transportation and housing Thursday. Erica C. Barnett of The C Is for Crank moderated. The full video and a recap of the mayoral forum is below. Stay tuned for a recap of the City Council Position 8 forum next week.

Seattle Bike Blog has not yet endorsed in this race. We want to follow-up with candidates before we do that. So below is my honest read of the candidates’ performances at this forum and in general. I looked for the good things everyone said and tried to highlight challenges for their campaigns. So if you can’t handle a little criticism of your favorite candidate, you won’t like this post. But, as a word of caution, like basically everyone I suck at political forecasting. So please feel free to disagree with my assessment of the race in the comments below.

Seattle has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to quality candidates for these positions. My home state, for example, appears to be on the verge of passing a law that would make it legal to fire a woman if she takes birth control. So when the “worst” of the top-tier mayoral candidates stands out because he believes municipal bank financing is “the solution, actually, to all of our problems,” we’re doing alright. I mean, I like the municipal bank idea, too.

For a blow-by-blow recap of the evening, check out #GrowingSeattle on Twitter.

Mayor (term: 2018-2021)

Starting in the order they were seated on stage:

Mike McGinn

Mike McGinn was clearly very comfortable in the room last night. As Mayor for one term (2010-2013), he pursued a lot of forward-thinking transportation and zoning policies, though not all got through an often hostile City Council.

“The first thing is to think of street not just as streets, but as the center of places,” he said in his very first answer of the evening. That’s pretty much a home run in this room.

But he was perhaps a little too comfortable. After all, he lost in a close race to Ed Murray, so he needs to convince Seattle that he is a new candidate, and not just the same one who ran for reelection in 2013 and fell short (Seattle Bike Blog endorsed McGinn). He’s also a white guy running for a position that only men have held since 1928. While it’s never wise to doubt the power and reach of male privilege, I get the sense Seattle is eager for a woman to be mayor. Few things say “status quo” like electing a man for mayor for the 90th year in a row.

“I feel that the times are catching up to us, and they’re catching up to me,” he said in his closing remarks, making the case that he was right about housing and transportation as mayor, but the City Council (and the electorate?) just hadn’t caught up to him yet. Now the Council has dramatically changed, and the city is ready for his ideas.

There is some truth to this. For example, Mayor Murray made headlines when he launched Vision Zero in Seattle, but “the objective of zero deaths and serious injuries was announced in 2012 in our Road Safety Action Plan,” he said. He’s right.

McGinn also has practical examples of how his safety policies have worked. For example, school zone speed cameras:

“The number of tickets is going down not just because people are getting tickets, but because we’re actually using the money to make streets safer,” he said. Again, true.

And when asked about what he would do as a member of the Sound Transit Board, he had the clearest focus on the importance of walking and biking access to stations.

But in this race, being “right” just isn’t enough. Jessyn Farrell and Cary Moon also deeply understand these issues. Jenny Durkan has the most money and is perfectly comfortable talking about biking, walking and transit as priorities, too. And Nikkita Oliver is trying to flip the whole table on mayoral politics by forging a new path to electoral victory that starts at the grassroots.

McGinn can’t rest on his laurels and trust people will see him as the agent of change he represented in 2009. A recent poll (of landlines only, so take its accuracy with a grain of salt) found that though he may be a frontrunner, he has very high negatives (46 percent), too. That suggests that he can’t lose very many undecided voters if he’s going to become the next mayor.

Jessyn Farrell

Until very recently a State Representative and formerly the Executive Director of Transportation Choices Coalition, Jessyn Farrell was also very comfortable in the forum Thursday. These are clearly issues she knows like the back of her hand.

She was very good at tying transportation and development (especially affordable housing) together “so we have people living near these great [transportation] investments we’ve made.”

She also talked about the need to focus on non-commute trips when we talk about car trip reduction efforts. Major employers have to do things like provide bus passes to employees to reduce driving trips, but what about all those other trips we take? What if we had a bus pass program for neighborhoods?

Farrell has a strong understanding of how Sound Transit financing and public process works, and she was the candidate most clearly excited about the Seattle Mayor’s seat on the Sound Transit Board. She not only talked about how to speed up the delivery of light rail projects, she also talked about a state law she helped pass to make it easier to develop affordable housing on Sound Transit’s surplus property. Again, tying the issues together in a concrete way.

She also had a clear political strategy for increasing density and affordably housing across the city, including in single family zones. The idea is modeled off regional growth planning efforts.

“We need an affordablitiy plan that lets no neighborhood off the hook,” she said. “We need plans that have affordability infused throughout our city.” Basically, the city needs to figure out how many new homes we need, then allocate an amount of growth across the city. Then each neighborhood can work with the city to decide how the growth happens, and different neighborhoods may take on growth in different ways. But no neighborhood gets to just say “No” to growing.

Farrell made the case that as a legislator, “I have the skills to work with City Council to deliver on these things we care about.” But her legislative experience also opened her up to the biggest slam in a mostly slam-free forum: When talking about how to speed up Sound Transit projects, Jenny Durkan said, “We need to contact our legislators to make sure there is no $2 billion hit to Sound Transit.” Farrell and Bob Hasegawa both voted in favor of a Democrat-led bill to adjust the motor vehicle excise tax part of the ST3 funding, essentially cutting funding. She did not talk about the vote in the forum, but she spoke to Erica C. Barnett about it in this interview.

Overall, Farrell was very right about transportation and housing issues. But like with McGinn, being right just isn’t going to be enough to get through the primary. Her campaign is getting a late start because she only resigned from the legislature weeks ago to focus full time on her mayoral bid. To get into the top two by August 1, Farrell needs to find a way to stand out even more as a leader. Her effort to tout her experience as a legislative compromiser just doesn’t pack enough punch in such a crowded field (even if that skill is what Seattle needs).

Nikkita Oliver

Nikkita Oliver came to the debate with her focus on displaced people and how the city needs to shift transportation and housing policy to address their needs first. She even talked about the needs of people who have already been priced out of the city, which was refreshing even if Seattle can only do so much to help people who don’t live inside its borders.

“What I would propose is we figure out where those who have been most displaced in our city — who are trying to get into our city on a regular basis — Where are they at and where are they trying to get to? So we can make our routes more efficient and more accessible.”

This idea came up again later when candidates were debating how to speed up Seattle’s Sound Transit projects. While every other candidate was tripping over each other to explain how they would speed up the public process and reorient bonding capacity or use city funds to help get Seattle projects sooner, Oliver asked a much more basic question: Is Seattle the part of the region that needs speeding up the most?

“If it’s not, then we’re being inequitable,” she said. This was notably unpopular in the room, but it’s a good question. In the end, Seattle can’t tell other jurisdictions what to do, but it’s just so easy to disregard anyone in the region who lives outside the Seattle city limits, even if they only moved out because rising rents forced them to. Of course, these displaced people won’t be able to vote for Oliver, but they deserve to be part of the discussion.

Oliver got off to a very bad start among pro-density housing policy wonks when, back in March, she praised a terrible column by Seattle Times Editorial Board member Brier Dudley and called for “a pause on development.” She walked that statement back in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald shortly after.

If Thursday evening was her chance to reassure people she is ready to dramatically expand development across the city, she didn’t go all the way. She embraced the city’s need for “strategic density,” but always with a caveat.

“As a city, we need to recognize that neighborhoods like Ballard have taken on inequitable amounts of the density in ways that have actually disturbed the stability and culture of the neighborhood,” she said.

Like most candidates, Oliver called for getting more from developers and major employers to fuel the creation of affordable housing. And while all candidates were all about backyard cottages, Oliver had the interesting suggestion that easing ADU construction rules could come with a rent stabilization agreement. I have no idea how such a rule would hold up against state law banning rent control, but it’s certainly a fresh take on the issue.

Oliver gets that “we are not going to be able to make our streets wider to make cars more mobile,” and she talked about using developer impact fees to help beef up bus service.

She also shared her experience with traffic danger as a runner in West Seattle.

“In my neighborhood over in Delridge we have no sidewalks, so it can be very scary,” she said. “As a runner, there are multiple times when I’ve almost been hit.” She suggested expanding student access to Drivers Ed, “but also Cycling Ed.” Oliver may be happy to learn that nearly every public schooler in third through fifth grades already goes through a cycling education course. Drivers Ed, on the other hand, has been cut.

On public outreach, Oliver had another idea no other candidate suggested: “Having folks from underrepresented communities and paying them for their time.” She also suggested “paying people to do their own organizing work in their communities.”

Oliver championed bringing back the downtown Free Ride Zone for buses, which King County Metro got rid of just a few years ago. She also suggested that transit agencies shouldn’t spend money on advertising at sports stadiums as an example of how she says transit budgets could be reprioritized to be more fiscally responsible and stop relying on renewing property tax levies.

Bob Hasegawa

Bob Hasegawa definitely had the worst showing Thursday. His answer to most questions was to create a municipal bank. At one point while pitching the bank idea, he even said that bank financing is “the solution, actually, to all of our problems.”

I mean, I guess that’s sort of true. And he’s totally sold me on the bank. But the city needs a lot more than that from the mayor.

In the end, it felt like he relied on talking about the bank because he didn’t have anything fresh to add to the policy issues everyone else was talking about. When asked about how to change Seattle’s car-dominated streets, he talked about freight trucks and “the problems these long, 60-foot vehicles are facing when they are navigating our streets.” He then touted his work to get the Lander Street Overpass funding in the state budget, a project this blog has been very critical of.

When asked about how to increase density across the city, he said the city should “empower the neighborhood councils” that Mayor Murray has recently moved away from due to the fact that they are much more likely to be white, wealthy and own their homes than the population as a whole. “In return for that privilege, make them resposnible for figuring out how they are going to absorb this new density,” he said, somewhat echoing Farrell’s idea for how to increase density citywide.

Hasegawa did have a call for free transit, which was pretty cool and not mentioned by any other candidate. And he called out the at-grade light rail alignment on MLK as dangerous to people walking, which is true.

For increasing affordable housing, Hasegawa called the HALA plan insufficient.

“We have to increase our housing supply dramatically by building public housing,” he said. And — you guessed it — finance that housing through a public bank.

Overall, Hasegawa didn’t seem plugged into Seattle’s top issues the way the other candidates were, and his platform of ideas for what he would do as mayor was much less complete. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that he is still working in the WA Senate and not fully committed to this mayoral run. Which then, of course, begs the question of why he should stand out as a candidate when all these other candidates are all in on this race.

Cary Moon

Cary Moon probably had the clearest walking, biking and transit priority of all the candidates, and that’s really saying something with McGinn and Farrell in the race.

She talked about the need to focus on “space efficiency by mode” when rethinking the city’s car-dominated streets.

“Our city used to prioritise level of service for cars,” she said. “As we grow so quickly and grow so dense, we have to shift to metics that measure: How many people can we move? And guess what. Transit, walking and biking are the most space-efficient modes. We have to be sure we are prioritizing them and giving them the investments they need so they work as modes of transit.”

Amen.

“We have made this committment to Vision Zero, but there is not funding to make it a reality,” she said. The city also needs to design streets and intersections to encourage safer behavior. “When cars feel like they are on a highway onramps when they are on an arterial, they go fast. And that’s when people die.”

She also challenged the city’s history of investing inequitably.

“The squeaky wheel — the wealthy white neighborhoods — get the bulk of the money,” she said. “We have change that.”

And it’s not just transportation, of course. Our housing and zoning rules have also created inequities and continue to make them worse.

“We need to all get on the same page about what conditions we’ve created as a socieity that have created these gaps,” she said. “How do we correct these historical injustices?”

Instead of focusing on one silver bullet housing solution, Moon brought a wide range of changes that all need to happen.

“We need to keep looking at multifamily and single famliy zones,” she said. And the city should “stop speculative development.” She also called for more public and nonprofit affordable housing.

“We’re going to need all these tools if we are going to keep up with growth,” she said. “Yes, all of it.”

Reading the words on the page, Moon is probably the most right of all the candidates when it comes to transportation and housing policies. This stuff is right in her wheelhouse, which obviously wows people like me who write and think about these issues every day. But is she the candidate with the best leadership skills and experience to steer the gigantic city machine in this direction? This was likely the most friendly room for her that she’s going to get, and I didn’t get the sense that she totally stood out and won the crowd.

Perhaps the biggest moment of the whole night was when Mike McGinn landed a subtly deadly joke. Deflecting from an unanswerable question (“Would you keep Scott Kubly as your SDOT Director? And if not, who would your SDOT Director be?”), McGinn wrote on his white board, “Not answering.” Then below that, he wrote, “Jessyn or Cary.”

The joke got a lot of laughs, but it was also a hella shrewd debate move on his part. He conflated the two of them together, sort of absorbed their expertise on the issues, and then diminished them. The joke is basically a microcosm of the challenge the three of them have in this race. There’s a big, engaged block of voters who care deeply about the kinds of transportation and housing policies they champion. Right now, people are either split or waiting to see if someone emerges as the most likely to win the primary. The problem is that they are all good on the issues, so they could just end up splitting the vote. Then maybe none of them make it through.

The (questionably accurate) polls suggest that McGinn has the early lead among them, in large part perhaps due to his name recognition and established crew of supporters from his previous campaigns. But there are a ton of undecideds out there, and like we noted above, one landline survey found that McGinn had high unfavorables. With 39 days until the primary, it’s getting to be time for someone to make a big move.

Jenny Durkan

Jenny Durkan has the most money in the race, reaping a lot of the financial support from people who had supported Mayor Murray. She also has an impressive C.V., having served as US Attorney from 2009-2014.

She played it mostly safe during the forum, often saying, “I agree with most of what’s been said.”

She didn’t say much to dislike, and she also didn’t equivocate on her support for walking and biking.

“To get people out of cars, we need to make it safer for bikes and pedestrians,” she said. “We need sidewalks in all neighborhoods.”

She also gets the connection between transportation and housing, saying, “We have to have more affordable housing, and it’s directly tied to our need for equitable transportation.”

She had ideas for speeding up Sound Transit projects, such as accelerating funding for planning using city money. And, as mentioned above, she also got in a slam against Hasegawa and Farrell for their votes to cut motor vehicle excise taxes that were part of the ST3 vote.

For affordable housing, Durkan had one idea that no one else mentioned: Tax breaks for landlords “who are providing good affordable housing, but … keep jacking the rents because their property taxes go up. I want to give those people a property tax break — either freeze or lower their breaks — if they agree to keep affordable housing on the premises.“

She also said local investment firms could help build more workforce housing.

“There are some really exciting projects going on right now where some of the investment funds — locally owned — are seeing that they can build workforce housing and know that their returns are going to be less for now, but in the longterm it will retun more,” she said. “I think we need to have private partnerships with those people to really bring on board more workforce housing immediately in neighborhoods and provide what government assistance you can do.”

 

If you made it this far, good job! I want to pick your brain. What follow-up questions would you like me to ask any of the candidates? Let me know in the comments below or email tom@seattlebikeblog.com. You can also email me to tell me how awful and terrible my read of the race is at this point :-)

This entry was posted in news and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Replay and recap: The Mayoral transportation and housing forum

  1. GlenBikes says:

    Oliver did well, but her education answer to road safety shows she just does not get transportation from that perspective. Cyclist education is just the tired old #VictimShaming campaign that we see coming out of auto-centric cities and DOTs. Wear a helmet, dress in fluorescent yellow, cover yourself in flashing lights, follow the rules of the road and stay hyper-alert so you can stay out of the way of negligent motorists. And if you get killed ST will report on which one of those things you failed to do and imply it’s your fault for getting killed.

    And educating drivers similarly has very negligible impact. Driver’s know what they should do, they still don’t.

    We absolutely cannot put someone like Nikkita Oliver in charge of Vision Zero. That would move us backward in those goals.

    Perhaps SBB can help educate her as part of its endorsement.

    • William says:

      I am sick of elements of the cycling community complaining that somehow education programs that encourage them to wear helmets, bright clothing and lights are victim shaming. By the same perverse logic, encouraging citizens to have good locks on their doors that they use, install burglar alarms etc., is equivalent to shaming home owners for property crimes.

      • Breadbaker says:

        I think you’re missing the point. I do everything you are supposed to do, I wear bright colors, I follow the rules of the road, I have worn helmets since before most of you are alive. But oddly enough, the Uber driver who doesn’t look in his mirror to pull out of the parking lane on Dexter across the bike lane will be quite capable of killing me regardless. The point is that when we design roads for drivers of cars to be able to kill me when I do everything right, the solution does not lie in anything a cyclist can do other than disappear off the road.

        Put any label you want on it, that’s not the correct public policy.

      • Al Dimond says:

        ‘Eh, “cycling ed” means making sure people are taught basic, common-sense rules of the road at a young age, so that when they go out there they can make some sense of what’s going on. Not “wear your helmet and bright clothing”. Like what they do in the Netherlands (where they don’t wear many helmets or reflectorized bodysuits, but all those city bikes do have headlamps). Or like we do sometimes, including with bike playgrounds.

        My parents taught me this stuff about cycling at a young age, just like they taught me how to cross the street at a younger age, and just like they helped teach me to drive when I was older. Not because they were hardcore bike people or something, just because it made sense to do. But a lot of kids don’t get that, so teaching it at school seems pretty reasonable to me. We also had a “bike rodeo” skills day at my school, though it was just one day and I couldn’t weave around cones any better than I could do any other coordination-based sport at that age. Anyway, to me, learning to use streets on a bike was empowering. Just like learning to cross streets a few years earlier, it taught me to make sense of the dangers of the road, rather than just blindly fear them. It greatly expanded where I could get to independently, from places within walking range to anywhere in my town accessible by side streets and trails.

        I think the lack of young-age cycling education shows often in these sorts of arguments. The only sort of official “education” most people have seen is admonishments to wear helmets and bright clothing, and the only antidote is, “The cars are always wrong!” Mass practical bike education for young people isn’t a panacea, but it is a fine idea. I’m more worried that Oliver suggests it without knowing the extent to which it’s already in place.

  2. Eli says:

    I think you’re being overly kind to our failed former Mayor McGinn.

    When cities around the world were adopting Vision Zero, he didn’t like the name and went with some asinine “Be Super Safe” (WTF was that even?) program.

    It’s great he had the right vision 4 years ahead of everyone else, but if he had no aptitude for execution back then — why would he be any more effective of a Mayor today?

    • Eli says:

      Also, I think calling your city’s Vision Zero-esque safety program “Be Super Safe” shows that as a leader, you don’t actually understand transportation safety.

      “Be Super Safe” implies that safety is about individual actions that citizens can take to make themselves safe. But the root cause problem is actually about infrastructure and enforcement of dangerous driver behaviors at scale, enabled by the infrastructure.

    • Law Abider says:

      Great, so they renamed the program Vision Zero, but it’s still the same hand waving, pat-themselves-on-the-back, useless program it was before. You can fault McGinn all you want, but the problem goes much deeper.

  3. Erik says:

    I am sorry but when you have a bike blog writing about municipal banks, housing policies, etc. and other non-cycle related issues, it’s gone too far. Cycling pulls in a diverse set of folks from all political beliefs. It’s one thing to comment on politics and cycling and another to take stands on other issues. There is no way this blog has the competency to address all those thing with nuance and perspective as it does about cycling issues.

    • GlenBikes says:

      This is a blog that focuses on transportation (that’s what bicycling is) and also covers the related issues of land use and housing which contribute to either building a type of city that it conducive to using a bicycle for transportation (more compact) or not (low density, spread out suburban land use where destinations are very far apart and less amenable to using anything other than motorized transport).

      This was a forum on tranportation and housing which are certainly within the realm of what SBB covers.

    • Drew says:

      Whoever becomes the next mayor will have more influence over cycling in this city than anyone. While many transportation improvements require more complex interagency coordination and state/federal funding, a mayor can fundamentally change bicycling in a city in less than a decade. So, it is extremely important for this blog to cover the mayor’s race.

      At the same time, it would also be pretty lame if this blog pretended that cycling issues are the be all, end all for how to judge a mayor. In fact, I think McGinn’s tenure showed that if a candidate goes out of their way to show off how aligned they are with the bike lobby, they face too much resistance to actually implementing improvements. In order to make headway, bike safety needs to be intertwined with larger issues like road safety more generally or how to develop livable density, health equity, etc.

      I think this is why Ed Murray has done more for biking than McGinn was able to do. Ultimately, Murray was able to foster a dialogue with yacht dealers along Westlake and the industrial lobby in Ballard that held fast to the principle that bike infrastructure can be part of a better transportation system for the community at large. In case you didn’t notice, he actually got the Westlake bike path finished and there is finally some daylight in the age old darkness that is the Missing Link. McGinn’s approach seemed to only make the opposition to his transportation agenda more resolute and he shrank from the challenge of actually implementing a progressive bike agenda.

      So, thank you Tom for not pigeonholing yourself. If you want a candidate who will really improve the experience of biking in the city, that candidate has to be able to speak to the larger issues facing the city and fold bike improvements into a broader strategy.

  4. Greg says:

    I’d like to see more discussion of what can be done to physically separate traffic of different speeds, so walking, bike, and auto traffic, which seems to be the only way to truly make walking and biking appealing and safe. My favorite solution is greenways (side streets where cars are slowed, discouraged, and diverted off every few blocks, but bikes are fine), but I’d like to hear their proposals (Is McGinn still a fan of sharrows, for example?).

    By the way, for a forum hosted by Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, there didn’t seem to be much discussion of greenways. Was there? I missed it in the notes, but was there more in the actual event? And thanks for typing up the notes, great to see it.

  5. hayley bones says:

    I really appreciate this write-up; it’s very helpful.

    I’d be interested as to what, specifically, the candidates would de-prioritize in terms of vehicle-oriented investment. In other words, if they want to invest more in Vision Zero (as Moon and others suggested), what money would they re-appropriate? I’d love to hear something like “I would propose cutting the budget for overlays on X type of street” or “I would kill X signal timing project and move that funding to do X sidewalks instead.” It’s a great concept that many of them are touting, but who is willing to make the hard choice and what would that choice look like? The money needs to come from somewhere and I’d like to see what the city would be willing/able to “sacrifice” to truly shift the status quo.

  6. Southeasterner says:

    In the world of transportation in Seattle any solution must include the term “network” and “connectivity,” as every form of transportation in Seattle, especially biking, suffers from a lack of a coherent network and basic wayfinding.

    We shouldn’t have to mail in applications and pay fees to use secure bike parking at bus/rail stations while cars park for free, we shouldn’t have disconnected bike infrastructure that dumps riders into dangerous conditions – in many cases directly into lanes of one-way oncoming traffic, we should install temporary facilities to connect existing facilities until permanent solutions are put in place, we should have detours around construction sites that block bike/ped routes, we should have basic wayfinding everywhere, and especially connecting road and trail facilities! Ironically if you give up on the lack of signs and use a smartphone/Google instead it often directs you to use streets that parallel bike facilities.

  7. ClassicalLiberal says:

    Good Lord, what absolutely pathetic choices this city is putting up for Mayor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *