Category Archives: Commentary

Seattle’s Universal Pre-K Smackdown

by Sandra Vanderven

Preschool FightThe Seattle Channel hosted a debate last Wednesday between the sponsors of dueling initiatives on Seattle’s ballot in support of access to and quality of pre-kindergarten education.  Both plans start with the worthy goal of improving pre-k.  The choice we face is how to achieve that goal.  We shouldn’t be having to choose between them, because they each address different aspects of early childhood education, and taken together the plans would be complimentary.  Unfortunately, the City opted to put them onto the ballot in competition with one another. The City Council’s (really, Tim Burgess’s) plan privileges educator attainment of official credentials and a mandated curriculum.  The union backed plan seeks to leverage the wealth of experience among practicing professionals.

The situation right now is that the cost of preschool is so high that many families who need it can’t afford it.  At the same time, there isn’t enough money to pay the teachers adequately, so every year, 38% of the workers leave the profession.  Until the new minimum wage kicks in for smaller businesses, the turnover will be even greater, as people will leave to flip burgers instead when it becomes more lucrative.

Burgess’ plan seeks to raise money through a levy to pay for a new department of Early Childhood Education.  This new department will mostly pull people from work they are already doing for the city in that field, causing work disruption and delay, and likely requiring a new layer of management (watch for that, because expenses will go way up).  It will mandate methods used in the classroom for 3 and 4 year olds, and will serve about 200 kids in two years, and 2,000 in four years.  This ballot measure requires preschool teachers to get college degrees.

The union-backed plan doesn’t directly add enrollment capacity.  What it does do is provide access to preschool to more families by lowering tuition costs to no more than 10% of a given household’s income.  The means of paying for this has not yet been determined.  It will also create better conditions for the estimated 30,000 kids already being served from birth to age 5.  One way to do this is to raise the minimum wage sooner for pre-k teachers, so they can afford to stay in the profession, providing a consistent presence for the kids.  Another is by offering a variety of training opportunities accessible through an affordable training academy. In this way, the union backed plan honors the experience of the people who work with kids, and provides them with opportunities to grow professionally in a way that is tailored to meet each teacher’s needs and goals.

At last Wednesday’s early education smackdown, I sat next to former Seattle School Board member Michael DeBell.  He supports Tim Burgess’s initiative, which on the ballot will be labeled 1B.  From chatting with him, I got that he explains away the merits of the union backed initiative (1A) with an attitude that naysayers are gonna naysay.  I didn’t talk to him long enough to get a sense of whether he’s always a democratic establishment guy, but he sure wears their perfume.  The hallmark is a subscription to a smarty pants attitude, as evinced by his statement, “There’s always going to be some group or another ready to oppose a good plan.”  Never mind what the supporters of 1A think, or why.

This debate boils down to people’s a priori beliefs.  Some feel strongly that to support kids we need to support teachers and families.  Others think the answers lie with testing.  The catchword in education for at least the last decade or so has been “outcomes.”  This is an important and productive development.  But making all education conform to standard outcomes would be a mistake.  Here’s why.

Since I am totally objective, you know it is true when I tell you that the best teacher to ever walk the planet happened to work at my high school.  His name was Jerry Elarth.  Elarth was a feral thinker.  Because it was 1984 and no one had put a stop to it yet, he taught a class called Science Fiction and World Philosophy.  I learned more in that class about what it means to be human, and how to continue learning beyond school, than in any other.  What would have happened if that teacher had been hammered by our current obsession with outcomes?  Who could write the test questions that might evaluate what I got out of that class?  Even I couldn’t do that, and if I could, a different set of questions would have to be devised for every student he taught, because we all had a unique experience.

I love science, and I have a healthy regard for all things science-y.  This is how I have come to know that the enemy of science is hubris.  If you are convinced that we are always asking the right questions, then by all means, support Tim Burgess, who positions himself as having science on his side, like a member of a religious sect claiming that God is actually in his corner and no one else’s.  Check this out—if a nurse visits the home of a new, at-risk mom once every two weeks from before birth to age two offering guidance in nurturing, the child’s prospects rocket in all regards.  Significantly more of them graduate from high school, they go to jail in far fewer numbers, get in trouble at school way less, and have higher I.Q.s.  That’s science too, bub!

This all boils down to beliefs.  Do we Seattleites believe that there’s value in supporting teachers in their creative quests to guide students toward richer lives, or do we continue to find ways to standardize education?  Let your beliefs guide you when choosing between the two early education plans.

Sandra Vanderven is a Community Organizer and Board President of the Backbone Campaign.

Why Washington State’s Tax System Continues to Fail Our Kids

by Marilyn Watkins

failing kids
Credit: Wikiphoto

The kids are back in school – and last week the Washington Supreme Court gave the State Legislature an “F” for failing to adequately fund public schools across the state.

Meanwhile, a new analysis by Standard & Poor’s concludes that growing income inequality is causing sales tax revenues to fall. According to the highly respected global credit rating firm, the share of income for the top 1% doubled in the U.S. between 1980 and 2011, while the rate of revenue growth for the states fell by half.

The link between rising inequality and declining revenue growth was strongest in the states that depend most heavily on sales tax – including Washington, which is second only to Florida in the degree to which we rely on sales tax. States with progressive income taxes, on the other hand, have by and large been able to maintain state revenues and services as the economy has changed, according to S&P.

Standard & Poor’s report comes as no surprise to anyone who’s studied Washington’s tax system. Washington has the most regressive tax system in the country, with low and moderate income residents paying higher shares of state and local taxes while the wealthiest pay far less than in other states. Small businesses also pay higher rates than big businesses – even before all the tax breaks and (perfectly legal) tax dodging from which some corporations benefit.

For decades, Washington state’s economy, population, and total personal income have grown at much faster rates than sales tax revenue, which provides over half of the state general fund. As a result, we’re failing our kids. We haven’t been able to implement improvements in the K-12 system, we can’t provide all kids who need it with high quality early learning, and we’ve jacked up tuition and limited enrollment in higher education – even as more jobs require a college degree.

Most of us know terrific, inspirational teachers and school staff, and Washington’s school kids consistently outperform all American kids in standardized tests. Yet children of color face a big achievement gap, receive harsher discipline, and are more likely to drop out. Washington has the 4th highest number of kids per teacher among all the states. We’re only in the middle in terms of teachers’ salaries – Georgia and Wyoming pay their teachers better.

Two years ago, the state Supreme Court told the legislature it was failing to meet its constitutional obligation to amply fund K-12 education. The legislature adopted great goals to make quality education accessible to all kids, but failed to come up with a plan to fund it. Now the court has found the legislature in contempt.

While Washington ranks 16th among states in total personal income, we’re in 42nd place in our level of investment in K-12 education. All but one of the states ahead of us have an income tax.

Our current tax system worked well enough in the mid-20th century, but it’s insufficient today. As long as we continue to rely on sales tax for half our general fund revenue, we will fall behind and fail our children. The only way to make our system less regressive and require the people with the most money to pay their fair share is to lower the sales tax and adopt a progressive state income tax.

Even facing a contempt ruling from the Supreme Court, the odds of our state legislature reforming the state revenue system in 2015 are close to zero. Most legislators believe with good reason they’ll be booted out of office if they do. But maybe they could take a step in that direction by ending corporate tax breaks and adopting a capital gains tax –  which by excluding retirement savings and providing a modest exemption would fall almost exclusively on the top 5%.

To get the rest of the way to sufficient, stable funding for the long haul, the legislature could dust off and update the findings of the bipartisan Gates commission, which over a decade ago recommended restructuring the state tax system. Then in 2016, they could put some real options to fully fund a comprehensive education system before the voters.

Meanwhile, it’s up to us, the people of Washington state, to force a public conversation on what it’s really going to take to fully fund the public services we need for individual opportunity and shared prosperity. Because we’re the ones who are really failing our kids.

Marilyn Watkins is policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, a nonpartisan policy center  focused on building and economy that works for everyone.

Civic Salvos: Pre-School for All, Maybe…

by Sandra Vanderven

There’s a plan afoot to make sure 3 and 4 year olds in Seattle have access to affordable preschool.  What great news!  Families struggle to get care for their kids, and science tells us it is crucial to offer rich learning opportunities during these years.  Unfortunately, things aren’t as straightforward as they seem.

The Good  

Access to preschool on a sliding scale is needed and important.

The Bad  

This plan was created by the city’s staff and paid consultants, while intentionally excluding the true stakeholders.  We know from experience that when collaboration does not occur, there is less of a clear shot at success.  That doesn’t mean it will fail, but it is more likely to.  The teachers, organizations who serve young children, and others who stand to be most affected by this plan are understandably upset that they have not and will not have a place at the table.  Someone needs to take the reins, but excluding people and entities whose work will either make this fly–or not–is the opposite of leadership.

The Ugly

The American Federation of Teachers and Service Employees Union International 925 have been working for a dozen years with early childhood educators to help them build an organizational voice in order to secure a living wage and job stability.  They have a plan for early childhood education. It covers birth on up, not just ages 3 and 4.  Probably politically driven, our city’s leadership has made some pretty slimy moves to ace them out of the picture.  From the look of it, it is all about who is in control.

This is disturbing, coming from what one would think is the most progressive city leadership, in a country which now has a pervasive climate of union busting.

The work of AFT and SEIU 925 laid the groundwork for Yes for Early Success, which collected 30,000 signatures to place an early childhood learning initiative on the ballot.  This initiative would provide preschool teachers with a training hub so that they can stay up to date on their profession’s best practices.  It would also phase these workers in to the $15 minimum wage more quickly, and give them a voice in determining how the program runs.

In contrast, get this:  The City would require all of the early childhood educators to get a 4 year college degree, with the exception of assistants, who would only have to have a two year degree. Where are these minimum wage workers going to get the time and money for this?  And why put such an onerous burden on them?  This is even more of a head scratcher when you realize that 38% of preschool assistants leave the profession in the space of a year.  Also, strangely, under the City’s plan, every family that enrolls is eligible for some amount of subsidy.  This would give scarce city money to some of the richest families on Earth, should they decide to enroll their kids.

It gets weirder. The city budget office created a memo fallaciously predicting the AFT/SEIU plan would incur costs calamitous to the city budget. Someone (likely a council member) leaked the memo to the press. The Seattle Times credulously used it in an editorial slamming the AFT/SEIU initiative.  But when the unions asked to see this memo to rebut the bogus claims, they were told that it is still covered by attorney client privilege.  These same predictions of budget destruction are being made to pit local trade unions against the plan.  These guys are being led to believe their livelihoods are threatened by day care workers.

But wait, there’s more. Tim Burgess and Mayor Murray are attempting to muscle the AFT/SEIU early childhood education initiative out of the way by making sure a competing initiative is presented on the ballot as either/or rather than complementary, muddying the waters as voters must choose between the two.

I am a voter, and here’s what I would choose if I could:  I would choose to be represented by elected officials who are motivated by service, not power.  I would vote for collaboration and effective leadership.  Not this nonsense.  Let’s hope kids can get a little preschool despite this mess.

Sandra Vanderven is a Community Organizer and Board President of the Backbone Campaign.

Washington State’s Broken Tax System

by John Stafford

Washington State has a dysfunctional tax system – arguably the nation’s worst.  It is critical to understand the mechanisms by which this flawed tax system adversely impacts progressive public policy development in our state.

Washington is one of just seven states with no personal income tax.  This leads to an excessive reliance on the highly regressive sales tax.  It is also one of just three states that tax corporations based on their revenues (the business and occupancy, or “B&O” tax) rather than their profits.  This penalizes unprofitable firms (often start-ups), who would not pay taxes until they were profitable in other states.  And Washington is the only state in the nation that uses both of these inferior approaches.

This taxation system has numerous drawbacks.  First, as is commonly known, Washington has the most regressive tax system in the country.  Washington’s poorest 20% pay 16.9% of their income in state and local taxes, compared to 2.8% for the top 1% — a ratio of six, the worst in the nation (source:  Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy).  The business tax is regressive as well.  The conservative Washington Policy Center writes:   “The problem is that the base includes unprofitable businesses, so if you readjusted the base to exclude unprofitable businesses, those who are profitable would see their tax rates rise.” The business tax structure also contains numerous exemptions, whose benefits are skewed toward large, profitable firms with lobbying clout.  Second, it is the regressive nature of Washington’s tax system that precipitates the ongoing stream of voter initiatives to limit tax increases (e.g., I-695, I-747, I-960, I-1033, I-1053, etc.) as lower and middle class citizens seek to limit the burden placed on them by the regressive system.  Even though some initiatives fail and others are overturned, the movement-at-large is influential.  The Economic Opportunity Institute comments on this connection between regressivity and tax reduction:  “…the disproportionately high tax burden placed on middle and low income families by Washington’s regressive tax system has led many to support tax cutting initiatives that hobble state and local government.”  Third, and consequently, Washington State has become a low taxation state.  Higher income states tend to have higher state and local taxes per capita.  But this is no longer true in Washington State.  Despite being a high income state (13th in the nation), Washington fell from 11th to 37th place in state and local taxes as a percentage of personal income between 1995 and 2011 (source:  Washington State Office of Financial Management).

This decline in tax position is hindering the state’s ability to adequately fund its most important obligations – a recurring phenomenon that is on constant display in our daily news.  Washington’s K-12 education spending per pupil as a percent of personal income is 44th in the nation.  This has brought forth the State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, calling for a significant increase in spending.  Predictably, Washington’s legislators are having a difficult time complying with this decision.  Washington is 49th in the nation in mental health treatment capacity.  This has also triggered a judicial intervention.  Higher Education suffered major reductions in state funding during the Great Recession, which gave rise to the second highest tuition increases in the country.  State employees and teachers have forgone cost-of-living wage increases for years.  And so on.

Washington State is generally seen as one of the most progressive states in the nation, and yet it has the most regressive tax structure in the nation.  It becomes important to ask:  is this merely an ironic dichotomy, or is there more to it than that?  Here, it is worth noting a loose parallel between national and state tax dynamics.  In Washington D.C., a common conservative tactic is to reduce taxes in order to deprive the government of the funding needed for liberal programs (“starving the beast”).  In a more roundabout way, Washington State’s tax structure engenders a similar dynamic.  A poorly designed tax structure drives intense regressivity, which foments efforts to constrain taxes, which has contributed to a decline in Washington’s rank in tax revenue as a percent of personal income, which has led to a series of institutions to be underfunded.  To address this challenge, legislators, with progressive taxation options off the table, are forced to consider additional regressive taxes.  In this manner, Washington’s tax structure forces the progressive agenda to work in opposition to itself.  That is, there is the desire on behalf of liberals to fund progressive priorities – K-12 education, mental health, higher education, cost-of-living wage increases, etc.  But to do so, they must decide whether to inflict further financial burden on the lower and middle classes — the very classes that these programs are intended to support.

In Washington, our dysfunctional tax system frustrates the progressive policy agenda – to the detriment of the state.  Indeed, it is hard to imagine the state successfully meeting its basic institutional funding obligations over the long term without fundamental tax reform.

John Stafford is a substitute teacher for Seattle Public Schools and a former management consultant in corporate strategy.  He recently completed a run for State Senate in the 37th District.  He will be writing a monthly article on public policy for the South Seattle Emerald

Cinema Verite: The Real Stars Aren’t on the Screen, They’re in the Seats

by Devin Chicras

Fade in: Interior, Skyway VFW, late July. West Hill residents pour single file into the basement for a community meeting called to address the growing concern for public safety in the wake of a recent spike in gun violence – including one memorable incident where two groups exchanged dozens of rounds across the main street, injuring six.

One woman is overheard mentioning “it’s a good thing it’s still light outside, or I wouldn’t have came. Not safe to be out here at night”. Older gentleman over her right shoulder nods in agreement.

They’re not alone. While the level of violence was analogous to many other surrounding areas, many residents and businesses had seriously considered moving out of the area, the tension and anxiety was palpable and online discussion was exploding. On top of an already difficult situation, we had just lost our beloved Storefront Deputy, someone many looked up to and regarded as a change maker in our community with his compassionate community policing model. He had given us hope, and now many felt lost.

If you had watched the news coverage of the meeting you would have assumed that it was entirely about how devastated the community was about Deputy Barnes’ departure. What you didn’t see was that the majority of the event was actually dedicated to brainstorming solutions to crime, and specifically, gun violence among youths. What the cameras didn’t catch was the incredible energy, empathy and problem solving that our neighbors brought to the meeting. Some mentioned that they wanted to do something for their community, but they seemed to be waiting for some direction.

I was in the crowd that night. I didn’t have a grand solution to end the violence. As a board member of the nonprofit, volunteer-run West Hill Community Association (WHCA) I felt inclined to focus on the positive side of our neighborhood and shared a list of opportunities for folks to get involved and contribute to a safer, more vibrant neighborhood – from work parties, annual cleanups and ways to get connected to neighbors, to an upcoming event called Skyway Outdoor Cinema.

I (among others) made a similar speech at an earlier WHCA meeting immediately following the police captain’s update on the recent major shooting (and neighbors asking what they could do about it) but the camera also stopped rolling after they had gotten the footage they came for, lest they complicate their neat paradigm of Skyway as lawless, crime-ridden area – a stigma perpetuated by the media which has not only been embedded in the consciousness of those that do not dare visit Skyway for fear of their own safety, but also in that of our very own neighbors. It breeds mistrust and serves to further isolate an area that already suffers from a severe lack of resources due to its unincorporated status and creates major challenges in building unity and expanding communication within our richly diverse, wonderfully unique neighborhood.

Two days after that public safety meeting – just two days after hearing folks say they wouldn’t want to be caught on the streets after dark – the 14th season of Skyway Outdoor Cinema kicked off behind the 7-Eleven on Renton Avenue South to an all time record crowd.

Myself and Mary Goebel served as the two lone volunteer organizers of WHCA’s Skyway Outdoor Cinema, and we’d worked all year, but still SOC2had much to do just before the opening day. The majority of expected funding had fallen through, and the timing couldn’t have been worse as by last season we had already doubled the crowds with a complete re-brand, expanded marketing efforts and a comprehensive overhaul of the whole event. Our ultimate goal was to continue making the event sustainable by securing sponsors and purchasing our own equipment, rather than renting.

To that end, we decided that we needed our own A/V equipment. While a grant from King County covered a bit less than half of an all-in-one unit we intended to buy, we were still about $4k short. So we turned to the community. We started an Indiegogo campaign, uploaded a silly but heartfelt video and put our fate in the hands of our neighbors. We didn’t have much money available to rent equipment, so the stakes were high. We received an incredible response, and in less than a month, we surpassed our goal by a total of 9%, thanks to some amazingly generous folks.

Similarly, calls for volunteers were met with responses from some of the kindest, most hard-working folks I’ve ever met.

As the emcee for the event, I needed some impromptu volunteers to help raffle off prizes after the film. The request had barely finished transferring from the mic to the speakers when a sea of tiny hands shot up. I quickly selected a group of children at random – not immediately realizing that some couldn’t have been much older than six or seven – to help hold the prizes up, spin the raffle drum, draw tickets and call out numbers over the microphone in front of hundreds of people. I have rarely seen the level of professionalism shown by these tiny humans displayed by fully grown adults. I’ve now repeated the same process over three nights with a completely different group of kids each time, with the same exact result.

We had no idea how many people would show up after seeing all of those negative news stories. We didn’t expect 300 attendees, from babies to seniors, to show up at a 7-Eleven in Skyway and stay until 11pm on a Friday night in August. And we certainly didn’t expect whole families to flock to Skyway of all places from Redmond, Burien, Des Moines, Federal Way and beyond.

While there may be some people that are quick to write us off, we are a community of leaders and compassionate supporters, who are simply searching for an opportunity to get involved. Something special is happening here in Skyway, and I think it’s only getting started.

——

Skyway Outdoor Cinema is showing “Frozen” for its final event of the season is this Friday, 8/22 behind the 7-Eleven on Renton Ave. S. & 76th Ave. S. Preshow fun runs from 8-9pm, with a free prize wheel, silly photo booth featuring Olaf the snowman made out of balloons and a free ticket for the raffle after the film. Concessions range from 50-75¢, so bring all the change in your couch cushions. Don’t forget to bring your own chair, beanbag, blanket or picnic table. Princess costume optional.

Facebook.com/SkywayOutdoorCinema

MyWestHill.org/SOC

Emerald in the Rough: When The Dog and Pony Show Came to Town

By Cindi Laws

Special to the South Seattle Emerald

Find it, FIx It walks

The latest tools of the City of Seattle, Find-It/Fix-It walks, were designed to have regular citizens meet their city leaders, to chat with police officers, and to point out things like graffiti and trash. Those need to be pointed out because, obviously, no one from the City has noticed these things recently.

These walks were designed to assuage the fears of people living and working in South Seattle. To show that city leaders were indeed paying attention. Attention to the fact that, since April 19, more people have been killed in the 37th Legislative District, which South Seattle dominates, than in the War in Afghanistan. Attention to the fact that, while violent crime has fallen city-wide, gun violence in the South Precinct is up 165 percent over all of 2013. Attention to the fact that the South Precinct has its 8th new police captain in five years. Attention to the fact that 75 percent of robberies in the South Precinct occur within 250 feet of transit stations, and that robberies are way, way up.

On Tuesday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray joined in the fifth “Find-It/Fix-It” walk, the second in the Rainier Beach area. It was gratifying to see the Mayor in the neighborhood, especially since he missed the July 22nd Rainier Beach event. Tuesday’s walk was also attended by Councilmember Sally Clark (a resident of the Brighton neighborhood), and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes (who lives south of Seward Park). Councilmember Bruce Harrell, a lifelong resident of South Seattle, participated in the first three walks.

But residents of South Seattle should be very concerned that none of the other seven members of the Seattle City Council have bothered to show up at the Find-it/Fix-It walks. Not the only member who served as a police officer. Not the only member who served as a Deputy King County Prosecutor. Not the Vice Chair of the Public Safety Committee.

Of the 80 people participating in Tuesday’s walk, more than half are paid city employees, representing the departments of police and fire, parks, neighborhoods, transportation, and lots of young interns and junior staff from the Mayor’s office. It was uplifting to show such a huge city contingent that the Seattle city limits extend beyond McClellan Street. Welcome to Rainier Beach, Mr. Mayor.

One could be forgiven for being skeptical that these walks would accomplish much. Since the first Rainier Beach walk two weeks ago, we’ve had numerous drive-by shootings, the home break-in and sexual assault of a child, and the pistol-whipping of a young woman in the Rainier Beach Public Library. Within hours of the Find-it/Fix-It walk around the Genesee Station, teen girls were robbed at gunpoint. More shootings here, there, everywhere in South Seattle.

Refreshingly, newly-hired Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole walked side-by-side with real neighbors genuinely excited by her presence. But while it was great to rub elbows with police brass, there was a disturbing disconnect.  Capt. John Hayes seemingly wanted to fill Robin Williams’ void by serving as jovial entertainer-in-chief. If he was describing, at any point, the violence that occurred in our library a few hours earlier, it wasn’t apparent because his demeanor was nothing but casual and flip. DJ, play me some Bobby McFerrin.

The first Rainier Beach Find-it/Fix-It walk had us leaving the light rail station, heading east on Henderson. Tripping on overgrown, unkempt street trees and broken sidewalks, my friend, who is blind, could see more blight and decay than city staff.  A nine-year old girl was bleeding from overgrown blackberry vines arching over sidewalks and onto city streets. I asked a representative of the Department of Transportation why the city couldn’t take care of this, especially when it’s on a block served by light rail and several bus lines. “This is private property,” she said. “It’s the owner’s responsibility.”

“I don’t (expletive) care,” I exploded in exasperation at her arrogant, let-them-eat-cake attitude. “Take care of it! Look at this bleeding girl and a fallen blind man; this is a hazard that needs to be fixed.” She argued with me, sputtering excuse after excuse why SDOT couldn’t help. Worse, with a straight face, she said that Rainier Beach gets the same resources as Queen Anne. And so goes the denial; so the lies are framed.

It’s one thing to ignore problems in South Seattle, as city leaders have done recently. But to take us on a stroll around a neighborhood, acting as if all is under control, as our city leaders praise their own responsiveness, is simply a Dog & Pony Show. We need the promised increase in police presence; we need those officers out of their cars and meeting youth and families; we need city administrators who won’t make excuses and will make progress; we need elected leaders who care as much about South Seattle as they do about South Lake Union.

Cindi Laws is a resident of the Rainier View neighborhood and a long-time activist.

Analysis of Seattle City Council’s Approval of Mount Baker Rezone

 

by Young Han Rezone Mt. Baker

Council Vote

Yesterday, the Seattle City Council voted to approve the Mount Baker rezone by an 8-1 vote, with Councilman Bruce Harrell in opposition (http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=2021450). The legislation allows for greater urban density, a wider range of commercial uses, and tighter design standards around the Mount Baker Link Light Rail station.

The rezone’s intended effect is to transform an area currently dominated by strip malls and parking lots into a pedestrian-friendly hub of commercial and residential activity. Spurred by a neighborhood planning process that began in 1999 and a design framework developed 10 years later (http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/cityplanning/completeprojectslist/northrainier/documents/default.htm), the rezone is a culmination of nearly 15 years of consideration. It also represents the city’s commitment to fostering growth in areas now served by investments in Link Light Rail. This is a major win for the future of Rainier Valley.

The Future/Back to the Future

Speaking of the future, two other developments stood out at this meeting. The first is Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw’s enthusiasm for further positive changes that can be made to the area, now that the rezone issue has been decided. She cited the original Olmstead Brothers’ plan for Seattle parks (http://www.seattle.gov/parks/parkspaces/olmsted.htm) and her interest in “reclaiming North Rainier’s Olmstead parks and boulevards.” The Olmsteads’ 1903 plan initially called for 20 contiguous miles of parks and green space throughout our city. While the city built out much of this plan in its early years, including space along Lake Washington Blvd and in the heart of Mount Baker, it breaks down into a sea of congestion and concrete along Rainier Ave S. Many area residents have called for the beautification of this area by bringing more of the Olmstead Brothers’ original vision into fruition and making concurrent traffic changes at the intersection of Rainier Ave S and Martin Luther King. They may have an ally in Councilwoman Bagshaw.

Opposing Views

The second thing that stood out at this meeting are the opposing votes by the two Councilmembers who reside in Southeast Seattle, Sally Clark and Bruce Harrell. With district-based elections starting next year, both Councilmembers will be up for re-election. Harrell has already registered to run for the district-based seat, Position 2, while Sally Clark is running citywide, for Position 9. Even while withholding all opinions about districting, which I mildly supported/still loosely support, it is nonetheless interesting to note.

Sally Clark voted in support of the rezone, along with seven other Councilmembers, while Bruce Harrell voted against it. In opposing the legislation, Harrell echoed the opponents of the rezone in saying that it shouldn’t occur until the city can identify developers who have an intention to build. “There are no pending development projects contingent upon this planned rezone… It would seem to me that this is when you start talking to the developer community,” he said. Later he also claimed that, he had not heard a single comment in support of a 125 foot height allowance for a parcel currently occupied by Lowe’s Home Improvement.

Both claims came across as strange.As Clark herself pointed out earlier in the meeting, by the time a developer has intentions for an area or a particular parcel, the city is already behind the curve. “The city will not act fast enough in order to change the land use map to make sure the neighborhood gets what it has been asking for.” This seems prima facie evident considering the duration of the current process. The Mount Baker rezone, from the time the city released the 2009 Design Framework, has taken five years to approve. This is just for theoretical development. Perhaps, as Harrell says, the city can wait until developers draw up specific plans. The question is, then what? There is no reason to believe the process will be any less drawn-out or contentious in the future. Furthermore there is a question of whether the city wants to get into the business of micromanaging future development. This is a recipe for years of added uncertainty and chaos, not greater democratic participation.

Harrell’s claim that he has not heard any support for raising the height allowance for the Lowe’s parcel is also confounding, given that he attended the same Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee meeting that many of my neighbors and I did. Some of us, myself included, spoke directly about this issue. Either way, Harrell will find political support among the vocal opponents of the rezone should he run again next year. This may be exactly the point. He appears to have taken a less reasoned policy stance to gain well-organized political backing. Clark took a simultaneously more principled and practical position by recognizing long-standing planning principles and supporting means to ends on which most Valley residents can agree: we needs smarter growth and more jobs. For that she should be commended.

Young Han is a Columbia City resident interested in economic history and the economics of technological change as well as an advocate for cooperative development, and expanding economic democracy