Category Archives: Politics

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

Mt. Baker Rezone Passes Committee Vote

Mt. Baker Rezone
Potential site of rezone in Mt. Baker area

by Young Han

News Brief: On Tuesday, the City Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee passed the bill to rezone the area around the Mount Baker Light Rail Station. On a 4-1 vote, with Bruce Harrell dissenting, the Committee moved the legislation to the full Council for a vote on Monday, June 23rd.

Echoing concerns from some area residents that the legislation has moved too quickly, Harrell proposed two amendments. The first amendment would have tabled the bill indefinitely for further study. This amendment failed when no additional Councilmembers came forward in support. The second amendment substituted a height limit of 85 feet (instead of the original 125) on the parcel currently occupied by Lowe’s Home Improvement. It too failed on a voice vote.

In last ditch effort to derail the legislation before going to the full City Council, opponents of the Mount Baker rezone came out in full force. They wore t-shirts saying “NO REZONE” and “Jobs NOT Apts”. As in previous meetings, they contended that they had not been fully included in the process, and that a rezone would fail due to slack demand for market-rate development while causing land values to escalate, threatening small businesses.

A final amendment by Councilwoman Sally Clark, one that sought to assuage fears that a 125 foot residential apartment complex may be built on the Lowe’s site, also failed without additional support. Clark’s amendment sought to explicitly limit the proportion of development on the site for residential development, if a structure nearing the height limit was, in fact, built.

Editorial: The PLUS Committee made the right decision to move the legislation for consideration by the full City Council. While opponents of the bill organized an impressive number of people to speak against the bill on Tuesday, they continued to provide an unclear sense of what they wanted with respect to the legislation itself, as well as a lack of realistic alternatives to bring about the one thing they all agreed they wanted: jobs.

In the course of three Committee meetings, opponents of the Mount Baker rezone have, at different points, said they want the legislation tabled so that it could go back to the community for reconsideration and that the rezone should not occur at all. They have also concurrently claimed that a rezone will fail to attract new development and that a rezone will result in gentrification. The opponents of the legislation give the impression that they are talking out of both sides of their mouths or throwing in every objection but the kitchen sink to stop the legislation.

On the issue of jobs, there is also more smoke than light. Opponents of the rezone have focused on the mere possibility that a developer could construct a 125 foot residential complex as a fatal flaw and a reason to reduce the height limit on the Lowe’s site, as proposed in Councilman Harrell’s amendment. They contend that the Seattle Mixed Use designation would result in residential units crowding out the possibility of commercial uses and therefore living-wage jobs. It has been pointed out multiple times, however, that the only structure rising to 125 feet that would make sense from a developer’s perspective would be commercial or mixed commercial/residential. Less flexibility in height restrictions would then only serve to limit the kind of potential commercial development that could occur. The “solution” to this problem would be counterproductive.

If bringing jobs to Rainier Valley is desired end, a rezone at 125 feet makes more sense than the alternatives that have been proposed. The process, one which began in 2009, has gone on long enough. Developers need a solid framework upon which they can predictably draw up plans and stakeholders throughout Southeast Seattle have long deserved a better urban environment than the one that currently exists. The PLUS Committee incisively recognized these facts amidst the panoply of arguments and made the right decision to move forward.

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

“We Can’t Arrest Ourselves Out Of These Problems”: An Interview On Violence In South Seattle With Bruce Harrell

As concerns have recently reemerged over the level of violence in the South Seattle area, the Emerald spoke with Seattle City Councilman Bruce Harrell, who chairs the city’s Public Safety Committee, and who also recently led a community discussion on violence reduction at the Southeast Seattle Senior Center. Councilman Harrell currently resides in South Seattle. BH

 

Emerald: You recently led a community forum on the topic of violence prevention in the South Seattle area. Community Meetings, as they relate to violence, are dismissed by many  as a “token” response that rarely ever results in any action being taken. Why should residents have cause for optimism after this particular meeting?

Bruce Harrell: First of all we are developing an actionable plan that we should be able to announce this month. We’re putting not only resources behind it, but best practices we’ve taken from other cities, as well as some creative ideas about how to protect our community in the South End of Seattle. So my attitude about meetings like that are, number one, I try to make sure that we can talk about everything, including things our own community can do. An example would be that one East African attendant spoke up and said that: “You know, I don’t see East Africans here and you need to do better outreach to make sure that my community is represented at these kinds of meetings.” I told him that he was right, and that we would do everything possible to do that, but I added: “You need to do the same thing. You need to figure out, how we can reach your community, as we have tried to reach out.” We established an immigrant/refugee commission, specifically for that purpose. We now have an East African person in our Police Academy, which we’re proud of.

That’s a prime example to me of, when people are demanding that others do things, that they feel empowered to do it themselves. I live by a quote: “You either accept things the way they are, or you accept responsibility for changing them.” So, I think that the meeting was a very good one. It gave people the chance to meet our police officers and  to let them know that we do care about South Seattle, and that they do have leaders who are developing plans to protect our community.

 

Emerald: Some people say that the easy remedy to violence in the area is to simply have more police officers around, however, an expanded police presence is a very polarizing issue amongst South Seattle residents. How can it be assured that police officers are viewed as actual partners with the community in fostering a safer South Seattle?

BH:  The fact of the matter is that we can not have police officers on every corner arresting kids for just standing around being who they are. We also have to give our own community leaders the tools to empower themselves.

I think that there are people who have come from the street life, and have found a way to overcome it. They have dealt with the negative messaging that they have received in their lives and now are giving back and can help us improve our communities. I think that as an investment strategy we need to know who these individuals and groups are, and we need to double down on them.  Again, we all know that we can’t arrest ourselves out of all the problems we have. We need to flood the streets with these kinds of good folks.

I also think that our officers need to be better trained to build community trust, and community relations at every opportunity. I recently attended a meeting at Rainier Beach High School, and I watched a couple of officers stand by the hallway and simply watch the crowd for a long period of time, to then only walk out of the school and get right into their car. What I wanted to impress upon the officers is that this is the time you build community, and public trust. So I want to see more officers, like Captain John Hayes, who seems to know everyone’s name in the community, and who can walk around and mix it up. Because when we couple that with the right kind of outreach, we can move the needle. The other component is that  the “no snitch”policy is a cancer to our community, and when we see shootings, we need to be able to break that. What has been effective in some other cities is to get high profile spokespeople, athletes, celebrities, people that come from the community, to help us change that cultural norm and that has to be very intentional when we are losing these lives.

 

Emerald: How do you think the city can empower organizations that are currently working in South Seattle to address the public safety issue?

BH: Right now I’m trying to figure out what organizations have the ability to scale up, and provide us some capacity to move the needle in terms of cultural norms, and can really make a difference. So, I think the first thing we need to do is take an inventory of these organizations and invest in them. The city’s role then is to be the quarterback or  the facilitator in allowing these organizations to do what they do best, and that is reaching the community and changing the conversation, so that communities can feel empowered to protect themselves.

 

Emerald: Economic Development has often been trumpeted as a silver bullet for public safety concerns around South Seattle, however, many people view it as a “trojan horse” for gentrification. You would be hard pressed to find a resident who wouldn’t love all of South Seattle to be a consistently safe and vibrant place, but they would also love to still afford to reside there when that happens. Could you address that issue?

BH: I think it first starts with a vision, and that vision has to be described with some level of specificity. So if I was to describe a great vision for South Seattle it would be that it remains affordable, so that you wouldn’t see huge seven figure homes in these areas with very  few affordable homes and  it would be safe. so I don’t think that you compromise price just because it becomes safe. That’s where the beauty of small business comes into play. You have to have a barbershop, a pizza place, a small restaurant, or a store where you can buy clothing. You have to have a vibrant small business atmosphere that, again, is safe and has parking, that you can use transit to get there. It has to be vibrant, so that anyone, from any part of town, feels comfortable going there. A great example is the resident led resurgence going on in Hillman City.

You don’t have that vibrancy in some areas of South Seattle. The medical cannabis dispensary is not the kind of small business that attracts a lot of patrons; they only attract a certain kind of patron. So the vision is of  safe, active, vibrant, small  business development, affordable housing, open space, parks that are activated, police officers who walk and ride bikes around, that’s a good community and an affordable community.

 

Emerald: With our potential police chief, Kathleen O’Toole, being an outsider to the city, many have questioned if a person who lacks a familiarity with the area can really hope to address the concerns of South Seattle. What is your feeling on that?

BH: I would have absolutely loved to have had a chief who knows all parts of our city, in particular the South End, but we don’t have that. The mayor made it clear that it was his preference to go outside the existing culture, and I accept that. So now, what’s most important is that Chief O’Toole gets the intel needs and that she has actual experience with dealing with some of the roughest neighborhoods in the country, and she does. I sat in on her interview panel, and that was exactly my line of inquiry. She spent a lot of time overseas as well, and I wanted to make sure that she had the credibility and experience in dealing with some of the tougher areas, and I’m fully convinced she does. In fact I think she will shine in that regard. She will have a learning curve to know the players in the community and so forth, but I think she is a quick learner and I think we’ll be very pleased with her ability to adjust.

 

Emerald: There’s a lot of conversation that if Rainier Beach, Skyway, Othello, etc, where instead Fremont or Wallingford, the type of violence and crime that’s been experienced wouldn’t be accepted by the city. What can be done to fix the perception that there is a divide in what the city tolerates in certain areas in comparison to others?

BH: If you walk other neighborhoods, and parts of this city, as I do, such as Lake City Way, University District, Pioneer Square, you will hear the exact same thing, that conditions are intolerable, yet the city leaders do not make the right level of investments into those areas. The fact of the matter is using federal funds, state funds, and city funds, we should again double down on the South End, because of the rates of poverty, the rates of unemployment, the graduation rates that aren’t where we need them to be, and I think that while we can greatly improve that, we don’t have leaders who are neglectful of that part of town.

I go back to what I said earlier, for those people who want more attention and resources, join me in making sure we get them. a lot of time, when I do my inventory organizations in the community, I ask: “What do you need? How can we help you succeed?”
As someone who sees these drive bys and shootings, I understand the frustrations people have, and I don’t mean to minimize them, but many of us have been dealing with them for 30 to 40 years, and I think it’s symptomatic of what’s happening in our country. You notice in almost every city, in every state, you have under invested areas, but I’m very optimistic that we’re putting strategies in place to improve them. Cleveland High School is a great example of that. The graduation rates have gone up 20 percent and the PTA has broken records in fundraising! So there are things that are rising in the right direction and what sets us back is another dead body found in the street.

Interview conducted by Marcus Harrison Green

Race Matters: The Misrepresentation of Race In The Media

by Sam Louie

Courtesy NY Daily News
Courtesy NY Daily News

 

As an Asian-American therapist with a multi-cultural focus, I can attest that an ethnic person’s identity can be mired in self-hatred and self-loathing during the process of integrating into mainstream American society.

In therapeutic circles there’s a process known as the Minority Identity Development Model.   The first phase is one called the “Pre-Encounter Stage” where a minority member devalues himself, his ethnicity (i.e. culture, customs, the way he/she looks) in comparison to the accepted, mainstream culture.  In the U.S., minorities may think the country or region they live in is anti-minority or non-minority and may act or behave in ways to be more “American” as a means to fit in.

The complexities related to Elliot Rodger’s mental health is vast and speculative but from his writings it’s clear it hinges on three prongs: race, class, and gender.  Mainstream media has expounded on the class and male entitlement aspect of Rodger’s life but very little is mentioned on the racial component.

If anything, it seems race is the last subject they want to address.  While his Asian background didn’t directly lead to his carnage, according to his manifesto it was clearly one of the contributing challenges he faced as someone who struggled with his mixed Chinese heritage as early as nine years old.

On top of this was the feeling that I was different because I am of mixed race. I am half White, half Asian, and this made me different from the normal fully-white kids that I was trying to fit in with…my first act was to ask my parents to allow me to bleach my hair blonde. I always envied and admired blonde-haired people, they always seemed so much more beautiful.”

Rodger’s desire to fit into mainstream society and be accepted as a minority during this vulnerable stage can not be understated or ignored (like it currently is by the media).  He was looking for acceptance from numerous sources: blonde women, his father, and peers but felt rejected or “not good enough” without the acknowledgment that one the biggest rejections he was grappling was his rejection of self.

His struggle while ostensibly looking like a young man plagued with a number of mental health issues should not be relegated to that classification alone.  Instead, we as a society need to understand Rodger was a young man who was stuck in a process where he was not able to integrate his ethnic Chinese side with his Caucasian side.  His writing of his ethnic self-hatred is evident even if it’s cloaked by his veiled attempt to bolster himself with his grandiosity (itself a defense mechanism).

I came across this Asian guy who was talking to a white girl. The sight of that filled me with rage. I always felt as if white girls thought less of me because I was half-Asian, but then I see this white girl at the party talking to a full-blooded Asian. I never had that kind of attention from a white girl! And white girls are the only girls I’m attracted to, especially the blondes. How could an ugly Asian attract the attention of a white girl, while a beautiful Eurasian like myself never had any attention from them?

This is why his race matters.  Because we as Asian-Americans hurt knowing he was never able to get to the second phase of the minority identity development known as the “Encounter Stage” where an ethnic minority learns to see himself as valuable, loved, and cherished not in spite of his culture but because of it.  In other words, minorities in this stage learn to embrace their heritage despite the surrounding that may convey contrary messages.

This explanation isn’t to simplify Elliot Rodger’s malicious actions, rather it’s to shed light and understanding to the public that race matters.

 

Sam Louie is an Asian-American psychotherapist with a private practice in Seattle and Bellevue.  He focuses on issues of culture, race, and addictions.  He is also a Los Angeles Emmy-Award Winning former t.v. news journalist and can be reached at:www.samlouiemft.com. sam@samlouiemft.com and on Twitter @SamLouieSpeaks  

Civic Salvos: We Can Get There From Here

by Sandra Vanderven

I went to The Evergreen State College, a place known for activist students who are nicknamed “Greeners”.  This is where I first realized that corporations and the wealthy were taking control of our democracy and that the media is complicit.  The symptoms of this situation are more than I can list here:  our climate is changing, our education system is being undermined, and most major life transitions now require tithing to banks which themselves are crime-ridden and impervious; to name just a few. Here To There

I went to Evergreen in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.  I would come back to Seattle to visit my friends and family, where the change in context, from radical college town to mainstream middle class upwardly mobile city, made me uncomfortably aware of how few people had access to the kind of info I was absorbing there.

Fast forward to now, and things are different.  We in Seattle get it.  In fact, 75% of us think that a $15 minimum wage is a good idea.

A few years ago, I decided to change what I do in life to include activism and organizing.  It is the best thing I ever did outside of family, and I can’t believe there aren’t more people working on this stuff.  Where are the torches and pitchforks?

People are busy.  I get that.  I’m busy too.  With most of the people I know on the same page with me philosophically, I often wonder why people don’t get involved more deeply than clicking online petitions.

I think there are a few answers in play.  One is people don’t turn out if they don’t think it will make a difference.  It is a simple value judgment.  I have a certain amount of time, and it never feels like enough, so I won’t spend a minute of it on something I am not persuaded will change things. There is also a bandwagon effect, meaning people look to see what others are doing and decide on action or inaction based on that.  Right now, the norm is that we can volunteer in a soup kitchen and feel righteous, but if we work to make soup kitchens obsolete we are considered a little deluded.

These attitudes have lots of causes.  Most of the progressive organizations wielding an email list have found that they can get people to click with a message of doom and gloom.  This gives them good short term results, but at the same time, our collective perception of whether we have a shot at making a difference is eroded.  People get overwhelmed.

It isn’t a part of our culture right now to engage politically.  Our country has been influenced by an anti-intellectual movement, and by a cult of fierce independence. Both of these things have undermined who we are fundamentally, and by that, I mean as a species.  We are social.  Interdependence is part of our makeup.  But deeply antisocial forces have turned us against our own intrinsic natures—turned us against the instincts that in the past have allowed us to thrive.  So now here in Seattle, the friendliest of climates in the world of organizing, a place where so many of us understand how the oligarchy is shaking us down, when we picture organizing or activism, the image that pops to mind is not of ourselves.

It isn’t accidental that people are skeptical about making a difference, and they won’t discover they can be effective by accident, either.

How do we change “I” to “we”?  How do we move from fierce independence to fierce cooperation?  How do we sear into minds the image of people doing better by working together?

For a start, we need a beacon to rally around and push towards.  We need to talk more about the world we want—what makes a life well lived, and how can we all have access to that, not just stomp our feet and yell about our corporate rulers being mean to us.  We, the movement builders, need to do a better job of demonstrating what we are working towards, showing glimpses of the future we are trying to attain.  Second, we have to give people a sense that we can make a difference, because as it turns out, we can.  Third, it has to be fun.

If we are going to win, it will take a movement that belongs to all, not just us Greeners.

Sandra Vanderven is a Senior Organizer at Fuse Washington and Board President of the Backbone Campaign. She can be contacted at sandra@fusewashington.org

 

The Clash Of Views On Government

 

Govt Clashingby Marilyn Watkins

 

Recent headlines highlight what conflicting attitudes we Americans tend to hold about government. The still-unfolding tragedy in Oso, the debates over school and transportation funding, and the Supreme Court ruling on campaign contributions all underscore just what a messy process democracy is.

We expect a lot from our government – protection from bad actors and natural disasters, high quality education and infrastructure, far-sighted leadership that still represents us. But we also want to be able to do as we please and pay as little as possible in taxes.

Mixed in with news accounts of individual heroism and community solidarity from the Oso landslide are questions of whether public officials could have prevented loss of life. Should the state have banned logging on that hilltop – and on every unstable slope in Washington? Should Snohomish County have prohibited building homes in the slide zone – and on other private property at risk of landslide or flood? Should we invest in a monitor and alert system – and who should pay?

Oso and Darrington aren’t just scenic retreats. They’re working-class  communities where logging is still an important part of the economic base. And the demand for lumber is driven by us city folk, even while many of us condemn clear-cutting and the ugly scars it leaves on our views.

We elect our city and county council members, state legislators and governor, Congress members and president. They pass the laws, with industry lobbyists, environmentalists, union reps, policy experts, and individual constituents arguing conflicting points of view. Then those oft-reviled government bureaucrats – or public servants – try to enforce usually imperfect laws with limited resources.

And the next expensive election campaign is always just around the corner. A well-financed opponent can outshout a true people’s representative, and easily twist a vote for the most thoughtfully-crafted legislation in a way that plays on voters’ fears.

A vote intended to protect lives and the environment is portrayed by opponents as a job-killing attack on property rights. A vote to ensure long-term funding for quality education, or modernized transportation infrastructure, is framed as greedy politicians taking more money out of your pocket. A vote requiring corporate shareholders and wealthy individuals to pay their fair share for public services is pronounced class warfare.

All the special-interest money in politics, and the fact that the Supreme Court has just allowed the wealthiest 600 or so Americans to make even larger campaign contributions, wouldn’t be so bad if voters had the leisure and inclination to be well-informed about the issues and candidates. But even professional policy wonks understand the ins and outs of only a handful of issues. Most people are too caught up with their kids’ activities, their parents’ declining health, and trying to pay the bills to have much energy for political engagement.

Therefore, public debate usually happens in sound bites. That enables those with the most money to have the most freedom to speak. Consensus based on true understanding of different perspectives rarely emerges.

Our government isn’t perfect, but under the circumstances functions remarkably well. Our schools educate most kids, our food and water is generally safe, our cities don’t crumble to rubble in earthquakes, firefighters and police show up and display heroism.

The only way to make government better is for more of us to be engaged, to learn about the issues, to share our views with candidates, to hold elected officials accountable for representing us and the common good, to be willing to pay our fair share of taxes to assure opportunity for the next generation. In the end, democracy is an on-going process that requires us all to participate.

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