Thursday, December 2, 2010

OUTSIDE CITY HALL A neighborhood manifesto for change

A neighborhood manifesto for change

Carolee Colter and John V. Fox  (reprinted from Dec 1, 2010 edition of Pacific Publishing Co. Newspapers)

Looking ahead to the 2011 Seattle City Council election, it’s not too early to start thinking about how to make City Hall more responsive to our neighborhoods and the cause of social justice.

The five seats now occupied by councilmembers Tom Rasmussen, Jean Godden, Tim Burgess, Bruce Harrell and Sally Clark will be contested.

Early next year, housing and neighborhood activists expect to convene an ad hoc group to discuss whether to run our own candidates in any of these races or find other ways to make all our electeds more sympathetic to our needs.

Right now, it appears likely that most, if not all, incumbents will seek reelection. And given the power of incumbency, we know how difficult it would be to beat any of them.

Only Godden, who routinely sides with development interests, seems to be in any way vulnerable.

Time to limit growth
There are other ways for neighborhood activists to challenge the status quo. Putting an initiative on the ballot, for instance, to block the current upzone-redevelopment-tear-down craze could save both trees and low-income housing.

The “creeks initiative” from 2003 was a good example. Had the courts not struck it down, that initiative would have thrown a serious monkey wrench into developers’ plans across our neighborhoods.

Another option might be creation of a “Neighborhood PAC,” or a Municipal League-like entity to evaluate and rate candidates in terms of their stance on issues important to the neighborhoods.

And there’s always another push for district elections. By making City Council members represent specific districts, they would become more directly accountable to their constituents instead of the moneyed special interests who donate to their campaigns.

And it would become much more financially feasible to those without corporate donors to get elected since TV advertising would no longer be as cost-effective as door-to-door campaigning. That’s why corporate interests went all out to (successfully) defeat an initiative for district elections in 2003.

Whether we run candidates, rate candidates or work to get initiatives on the ballot, our theme should be limiting growth to responsible, managed levels.

As we come out of the economic downturn, we need mechanisms in place to preserve our trees, greenspace, affordable housing and the physical and social character of our neighborhoods — the things that make this city livable — before growth accelerates again to the runaway levels we experienced before the recession hit.

What we really need
We’ve seen too much growth, and our current elected leaders are too beholden to developers, Paul Allen and downtown interests. It’s time developers started paying their fair share of the costs of growth, in the form of one-for-one replacement of affordable housing units they remove.

We need stronger tree protections (not fewer) and no more upzones in our neighborhoods, period.

Impact fees should replace regressive revenue sources, such as increases in property taxes, user fees, tolling and the business-and-occupation tax. Small businesses, working people, low-income people, including many longtime residents, are all being nickeled-and-dimed to death.

Let’s stop tapping the general fund for big-ticket projects that serve special interests and put them on special ballots rather than bridge repairs, crosswalks and funding for our libraries and community centers — that’s what the general fund is for.

Root out the millions in our general fund going to South Lake Union and downtown.

No to fixing the “Mercer mess,” and no to the Alaskan Way Viaduct-replacement tunnel!

No to adding more lanes to state Route 520.

More for buses, and less for Sound Transit and streetcars.

Kill the stoplight cameras, bring parking-meter rates back down and limit “road diets” to those areas where the neighborhoods want them.

More police accountability — it’s time for a real citizen-review board with subpoena powers and power to impose penalties and consequences.

Good stewardship
The big lie is the assumption that Seattle isn’t doing its share to absorb density and growth, to prevent sprawl and curb global warming. In nearly every neighborhood, including most of the areas around train stops, we’ve exceeded our growth targets.

There’s something wrong with advocating for open-space preservation outside the city but, once across the city line, aiding and abetting the pouring of concrete and wiping out of trees, stamping out every last vestige of nature for urban dwellers outside of parks.

Good stewardship of our environment begins right here in our own neighborhoods: protecting our trees, preserving space in all our neighborhoods for essential urban gardening, saving urban streams — and, not coincidentally, preserving our existing stock of low-income and affordable housing.

It’s right in our neighborhoods where we can make the most impact on climate change, not somewhere else.

Although this runs counter to conventional wisdom and special interests, we need to publicize and promote the notion of a “steady state economy,” a realization that growth anywhere of any kind at accelerated rates is anathema to a healthy environment.

In the interim, a poly-centered approach to growth for the region — distributing it where people are already living and not concentrating it all in Seattle — is the most cost-effective and environmentally sound way to manage the growth we have.

We progressives need to reclaim the environmental high ground, and that means learning to say no to growth.

JOHN V. FOX AND CAROLEE COLTER are coordinators for the Seattle Displacement Coalition (google us), a low-income housing organization or email us here or ph: 206-632-0668.


Founded in 1948, the Seattle Community Council Federation is one of the nation's oldest and most active coalitions of neighborhood groups.  Yearly dues for member groups are $50.  SCCF welcomes new member groups, and encourages renewal by groups whose membership in SCCF may have lapsed.  Individual donations are also welcome and tax deductible, and go very far, as SCCF is an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) organization.  Please mail your check to SCCF, 2370 Yale Avenue East, Seattle, WA  98102-3310.  For questions, contact treasurer Chris Leman, (206) 322-5463,

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