Key city decisions on the line with November election

by Carolee Colter and John V. Fox, Seattle Displacement Coalition – October 13, 2015

Who stands for our neighborhoods and low income housing? 

The upcoming Seattle City Council elections will determine the future of our neighborhoods and our remaining stock of low-income housing. It’s all on the line.

We know most of you who read our columns care deeply about homelessness, racial injustice and the continuing loss of both the physical and social character of our communities to growth now sweeping across our city.

The City Council just approved a work program to vote on a series of measures over the next 18 months aimed at implementing the mayor’s Housing Affordability & Livability Agenda (HALA) advisory committee’s recommendations. Despite record levels of new construction already occurring under the existing zoning code, every inch of our city would be upzoned and developers would be freed of environmental rules and given millions more in tax breaks.

The changes would include giving developers additional floor area and height in all multi-family and neighborhood commercial zones. Literally thousands of existing low-cost and affordable housing units located in these areas would be placed at risk of removal to redevelopment.  

Compare areas identified for upzone here, with areas the city has identified at high risk of displacement here p16  They are nearly identical. Acres of tree canopy and open space also would be on the chopping block. 

And contrary to recent news reports, Mayor Ed Murray and CityCouncilmember Mike O’Brien slipped in plans to allow unrestricted in-law apartments and backyard cottages in all single-family areas. Existing limits on parking and owner-occupancy requirements in these areas would be dropped, allowing speculators to have a field day.

We are at a pivotal juncture in Seattle. How much, if any, of these plans finally get approved comes down to one thing: whom we elect to fill our seven new District Council and two at-large seats.


As long as the wrong people remain in office to make these key decisions affecting us, all the kicking and screaming, eloquent testimony, lobbying at hearings, protesting and litigation we can bring to bear won’t amount to much.

All the candidates who remain in these council races must first be measured on whether they will stand up for our neighborhoods and affordable housing. And that means above all saying:

* NO to these massive citywide upzones and taxpayer giveaways;

* No to demolition of existing lower-density affordable housing;

* NO to more grossly out-of-scale, ugly, lot line-to-lot line developments already popping up like noxious weeds under the existing code;

* NO to 340-foot towers for the University District that would threaten 1,500 units of low-income housing; and

* YES to placing limits on growth and requiring developers to pay impact fees so they pay their fair share of the costs of growth when it occurs.

On this basis, we give Lisa Herbold in District 1 and Michael Maddux in District 4 our highest recommendation. We also recommend Tammy Morales in District 2, Kshama Sawant in District 3, Debora Juarez in District 5, Catherine Weatbrook in District 6 and Bill Bradburd and Jonathan Grant for the two at-large seats.  These are the candidates most likely to get us there.  

Electing Maddux is especially important for Northeast Seattle. He supports managed growth and requiring developers to replace one-for-one any low-cost housing they remove. He also calls for greater protections for our dwindling tree canopy and says he’ll fight for developer-impact fees to ensure developers pay their fair share. He says he’ll make these his first priority — not more upzones.  

Maddux’s opponent Rob Johnson is bought and paid for by downtown and developer interests who’ve already poured more than $80,000 into his campaign. Our city’s drowning in record growth, and we’re zoned already for 223,000 units but only need capacity for 70,000 to meet our county assigned 20-year target.  But Johnson wants more of it.  Tree-Pac, a great and normally savvy bunch of tree advocates really got this one wrong endorsing Johnson.  Most of our city’s remaining older tree growth is on privately owned land and Johnson would upzone and redevelop every inch of it.

There’s a $2 billion backlog in infrastructure needs due directly to runaway growth, but instead of calling on developers to share the cost with impact fees, Johnson supports expanding the Multi-Family Tax Exemption program, giving developers millions more in property tax breaks. 

 But no one is needed on our City Council more than Herbold. No one knows more or cares more deeply about the neighborhoods, housing, homelessness and racial justice. No one will listen to us like she will. If you ever called CityCouncilmember Nick Licata’s office you know what we mean — and no one is more skilled at representing us at City Hall, getting our issues addressed and won than Herbold. 

It is precisely because of Herbold’s effectiveness that downtown and developer political action committees have now shifted their focus into defeating her, pouring tens of thousands into direct mails and TV ads for her opponent

Speak with your vote

If we sit on the sidelines and don’t do all we can to elect the right people and the wrong people get elected, we can say goodbye to our communities as we know them.  Everything from the future of our parks, open space, tree canopy, affordable housing and small businesses — who wins, who loses, it’s all on the line.

JOHN V. FOX and CAROLEE COLTER are coordinators for the SeattleDisplacement Coalition (

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