How to plan and manage urban growth might be the most pressing issue facing development-crazy Seattle, and it was certainly the big question confronting a panel of City Council candidates at the recent growth-and-development forum at the Yesler Community Center.
The Aug. 2 forum featured a series of hard-hitting and unusually sophisticated questions posed by a moderator, followed in turn by minute-to-90-second-long answers by the panel, which featured both incumbents and challengers for various City Council positions.
A 'GROWTH' TIMEOUT
The Candidates' Forum on Growth and Development - co-sponsored by a handful of community-based organizations, including Hate Free Zone, Real Change, Community Coalition for Environmental Justice (CCEJ) and the Tenants Union - revealed few significant rifts among the candidates and, at times, presented an almost unified front in the candidates' proclaimed desire to protect the city and its citizens from the more negative aspects of booming urban growth.
"A lot of people are getting ridden on the red-carpet-of-density right out of town," said council candidate Joe Szwaja, who is challenging incumbent Jean Godden for her seat at Position 1. Szwaja, who lives in the Ravenna neighborhood, explained that public officials need to protect their constituents - especially the most impoverished - from the displacement resulting from rampant growth. He suggested one-to-one replacement for low-income housing lost to development, protection from predatory lending and a strengthening of renter's rights.
Godden did not attend the forum.
Challenger Venus Velazquez, one among four candidates at the forum vying for Position 3 on the City Council, said she supports the idea of one-to-one replacement of low-income housing. At one point, Velazquez - who argued that Seattle's housing boom "displaces the lowest people on the pole" - told the audience that, "We all need to take a big 'growth' timeout," an assertion that received a burst of applause from forum attendees.
CAUSE OF GENTRIFICATION
Addressing a question about the root causes of gentrification, Velazquez said that many residents get "priced out" of particular neighborhoods by people with access to more and better resources. "It's about poverty, it's about class and it's about race," the candidate stated.
Position 9 incumbent Sally Clark said the issue of gentrification is a huge one, especially in the South End. "It's ripping neighborhoods apart," Clark said, adding that the arrival of light rail in the Rainier Valley is a "double-edged sword" in terms of the transit project's impact on regional development. "It's going to continue to push people farther south and out of our city," she said of growth spurred by light rail.
Clark added that the new transit option will make the South End look attractive to developers who had not considered the area previously.
Position 3 candidate Bruce Harrell said city officials should ensure that light rail be surrounded by "good, healthy development."
"How we deal with this issue will define us as a city," Harrell said of light rail.
MORE PEOPLE, LESS LAND
Al Runte, a North End resident and another Position 3 challenger, said that in terms of growth, development and transportation, Seattle is "moving closer and closer to the phenomenon of Europe: more people, less land."
As for solving the city's vast and ingrained transportation problems, Runte said he supports rebuilding the Alaskan Way Viaduct rather than replacing it with surface streets: "The problem with the surface option is you're going to have a lot of stop-and-go traffic."
Runte, a historian with a strong populist bent, also came out strong in support of protecting public open space in the face of development.
One of his suggestions was that developers pay for public parks through the implementation of impact fees. He warned against the city selling public lands or property to private developers. "How would you like to visit Starbucks' Yellowstone?" Runte quipped.
Harrell also came out in support of creating and protecting open, public space in the city. "I think people want open space," he said. "They want to see smart development.... Embracing density is going to be very tough if we don't do it in an aesthetically pleasing way."
PRESERVING THE NEIGHBORHOODS
Candidate Tim Burgess, a Queen Anne resident, said several times during the proceedings that as a council member he would make sure Seattle does not become a city of only "the wealthy and the childless."
"The problem we have is when the market reigns supreme and there are not proper checks and balances," Burgess said.
"One of the things that the city should be doing very aggressively is protecting the historic character and diversity of our neighborhoods," he said, adding that one of the ways officials can protect neighborhood diversity is to "promote, nurture and encourage" small businesses - especially businesses operated by immigrants.
Councilmember David Della, who is being challenged by Burgess for Position 7, said he is a big supporter of small, immigrant businesses. He said that such franchises are supported by the promotion of mixed-use development, as well as access to equitable and fair funding by lending institutions.
Councilmember Clark said small-business owners can seek assistance through such city offices as the Department of Economic Development, and, in turn, politicians should work to ensure there is always "a place at the table" for the city's diverse immigrant communities.
Burgess said that, as a community activist of some 20 years, he also has been concerned with the "process" by which particular neighborhoods engage with the city bureaucracy. He argued that what the City Council needs right now are "members who have been in the trenches in the neighborhoods."
Della said he's often been frustrated by the way the city interacts with neighborhoods when it comes to addressing growth and development: "We have to change the way we work with people to get their participation."
Runte also addressed the problem of bureaucratic communication by making a "radical" idea: installing in government "people who actually answered the phone."[[In-content Ad]]