Dear Mr. Mayor

What I wish you'd said.
This post is part of the research project: Making Sustainability Legal

On Wednesday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced he would not pursue the recommendation of his housing affordability committee (HALA), on which I served, to allow greater flexibility of housing types in single-family neighborhoods, such as cottage clusters, mini-duplexes, rowhouses, and stacked flats within existing rules on setbacks and building height and size. I sent the mayor a letter yesterday, expressing my disappointment in this decision, which I fear will begin to unravel the grand bargain of more housing/more affordability that HALA hammered out over ten months—and which I hope will form a bold new model for all of Cascadia’s cities.

In the letter, I acknowledged the intense and politically damaging outcry from some residents of single-family neighborhoods and agreed that he needed to respond.

Here are parts of the letter:

Dear Mr. Mayor:

…Here’s what I wish you had said yesterday in your statement. Read more »


Weekend Reading 7/31/15

BC's First Nations against Big Oil, Portland vs Shell, HALA-baloo, and more.
This post is 213 in the series: Weekend Reading


If you want to understand what is happening right now in Seattle’s housing controversy—the HALA-baloo—read this article carefully. What the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda committee has done is to offer a plan that would lead the city out of the trap it is falling into and which San Francisco is already deeply ensnared in. (Vancouver, BC, too is ensnared, though the trap is not identical.) HALA sketched a fragile, new political coalition, too. The old, anti-development political coalition that has long united the far left with the city’s neighborhood preservationists is now pushing back hard. Seattle can and must engage in a long and thorough debate about exactly how to embrace growth and bend it toward inclusion—exactly what rules should be implemented for building what, where—but if we continue to err on the side of impeding housing, we will become San Francisco: a place only for millionaires and subsidiaries.


Ah, Margaret Atwood. I love you, but your science fiction writing and your this-sounds-like-science-fiction-but-it-is-real! writing about climate change terrifies me and makes me think maybe I should buy some guns. No, I’m not going to buy guns. But maybe I should… and dog food. Read more »

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Why Big Coal Likes Gerrymandered Districts

A switch to district-only voting would be a win for coal in Whatcom County.
This post is 34 in the series: What Democracy Looks Like

Coal companies want to build the biggest coal export terminal in North America just north of Bellingham, Washington. The Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point would send more than 48 million tons of coal a year to Asia. Most Washington voters oppose exporting coal through the Evergreen state, so the moneyed interests that would profit from the coal terminal have enlisted conservative politicians in Whatcom County in a crusade to ensure that coal wins, whether voters like it or not. Here are coal interests’ strategies to circumvent voters in Whatcom County.

Coal Strategy #1: Buy the Whatcom County Council Election

In 2013, coal interests spent more than $170,000 through the SaveWhatcom PAC and Whatcom First PAC to try to elect candidates who would give coal the green light. (The Public Disclosure Commission fined the two pro-coal PACs $4,500 for illegally funneling money through the Republican Party and failing to report their contributions in a timely manner.) In addition to donating to the PAC, SSA Marine, a Seattle company that would build the coal terminal, is funding an ongoing campaign in support of the project. But clean energy proponents out-spent coal in this round: Washington Conservation Voters, bolstered by $275,000 from the NextGen Climate Action Super PAC, spent $330,000 on county campaigns. Anti-coal terminal candidates swept the election, winning all four of the empty Council seats. Coal interests lost the battle, so they switched tactics. Read more »

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Picture Perfect Energy Efficiency

Your cheat sheet to effective energy efficiency imagery.
This post is part of the research project: Flashcards

Words matter—I’d say, a lot. But that doesn’t mean we should treat visuals as an afterthought. Far from it. As Resource Media reminds us, the right images can have a mighty powerful emotional impact.

We should aim to combine compelling messaging and images.

With that in mind, those same smart Resource Media folks did some testing to pick out what kinds of visuals capitalize on the widespread enthusiasm Americans have for energy efficiency to boost support for bigger picture policy initiatives.

The opportunity: The good news is that people across the political spectrum support energy efficiency. They know what it is, believe it is a good thing, and want to be a part of it. Indeed, most people relate personally to insulation and thermostats in a way that they can’t to wind turbines or solar panels (and efficiency isn’t as politically polarizing as those symbols of renewable energy have become.)

The challenge: People view energy efficiency as a personal responsibility, not the job of government or regulations. Read more »

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Sightline on Shell’s Presence in Oregon

Listen to a conversation on the Northwest's role in Arctic drilling.
This post is part of the research project: Northwest Coal & Oil Exports

For those following the controversy of Shell’s Arctic drilling program, here’s a look at the role of Northwest ports—first Seattle, now Portland—in hosting the oil drilling fleet vessels: a 45-minute interview on KBOO, a community radio station based in Portland. Host Barbara Bernstein, Sightline research fellow Nick Abraham (who is also the editor of Oil Check NW), and I explored some of the dimensions of Arctic drilling, Shell’s track record, and Northwest cities’ role in the whole endeavor.

As one bit of context, here is Sightline’s examination of Shell’s political spending in Washington and in Oregon.

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Honest Elections Seattle Tames Lobbying Money

Candidates banned from taking money from big lobbying spenders.
This post is 33 in the series: What Democracy Looks Like

In 2013, during the last municipal election campaigns in Seattle, the ridesharing company Lyft was fighting for its life in a dispute over local taxi regulations. It contributed $2,600 to candidates for mayor and city council and also spent $15,000 lobbying city hall. Eventually, it won city rules agreeable to its interests.

Meanwhile, Clise Properties, a developer involved in an enormous set of construction projects north of downtown Seattle for which it sought city permission to take over alleys and install a new district energy system, spent $48,000 lobbying city officials that year. It also contributed $2,800 to candidates for city office. It has since won permission for many of its projects.

The Rental Housing Association (RHA), which represents landlords in city hall in policy fights over apartment regulations, tenant protections, and land-use ordinances, spent $30,000 on city lobbying in 2013 and $2,600 on campaign contributions. Read more »


Video: Who Funds Seattle’s Political Candidates?

What Seattle's money in politics looks like in two minutes.
This post is 17 in the series: Look Who's Taking Oil & Coal Money

Ever wondered who funds Seattle’s political candidates? Well, Sightline has—so we mapped it. For your convenience and viewing pleasure, we condensed the report into a two minute video that paints a picture of Seattle’s money in politics.

To win elections, local candidates depend on a tiny share of the people who live in Seattle: mostly, rich, white people in view homes. Honest Elections Seattle (Initiative 122) would lower the limit on contributions to candidates and let every voter contribute $100 of public campaign vouchers to the candidate of his or her choice. Now that’s what a true participatory democracy looks like.

View the full report here.

View the interactive map here. Read more »

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Weekend Reading 7/24/15

The great HALA debate, the clear costs of GMO-labeling, setting kids up to succeed, and more.
This post is 212 in the series: Weekend Reading


Entrepreneurs? They mostly come from money.

It’s been a couple weeks of strong words and big feelings about the Seattle housing proposals I helped craft. About it all, the Seattle Times editorial board hollered “slow down!” Which was, well, ironic, considering the ed board’s 2013 “hurry up!


Last year I voted against Oregon’s GMO-labeling ballot initiative (gasp! My environmentalist friends are shocked and appalled about this). I voted no because the arguments didn’t make sense: there is no evidence of health threats, and if you are worried about pesticides, then worry about pesticides—the main problem there is mono crop farming, not GMOs per se. It also seemed like a way to make low-income people feel bad about something they have no control over: yuppy yoga moms could feel good buying their non-GMO produce at Whole Foods, but pretty much everything else has GMOs in it, so other people are just reminded every time they buy food that they may be doing something vaguely unhealthy. Clear costs + no clear benefits = no vote. But I did not go one step further—as this Slate article does—and consider: Read more »


Shell’s Rig is Headed to Portland

But the company—and its money—has been in Oregon for a long time
This post is part of the research project: Northwest Coal & Oil Exports

Royal Dutch Shell, the world’s second largest company, wants to find oil under the seabed off the coast of Alaska. After a disastrous attempt at Arctic drilling in 2012, the company has returned this summer to once again try to drill exploratory wells. But just like before, they’ve hit a major snag.

Shell’s MSV Fennica icebreaker vessel isn’t pointed north. Instead it’s headed to Portland’s shipyard for repairs to a 39 inch gash in its hull. Most observers expect it to arrive within the week. The ship was on its way to support Shell’s drilling fleet as the company commences putting in two exploratory wells 70 miles off the coast of Alaska. The Chukchi Sea’s icy waters make it far too dangerous to drill without icebreaker ships in support.

When Shell comes to town things can get messy in a hurry. Read more »


Interactive Map: Who Funds Seattle’s Political Candidates?

Half of political contributions come from 0.3% of the city's population.
This post is 32 in the series: What Democracy Looks Like

Did you miss Sightline Institute’s new report released yesterday? Or didn’t have time to read all 27 pages? Don’t fret—here’s your political funding cheat sheet. Simply click the image below and explore the tabs to see how Seattle’s largest political contributions overlap with the wealthiest and whitest neighborhoods with view homes. The alarmingly small number of contributors that dominate Seattle’s political game demonstrates the need for democracy reform.

What would political contributions look like if Honest Elections Seattle (Initiative 122) is enacted in November? Don’t forget to click the last tab to find out.


How much money is your neighborhood contributing to campaigns? Check out the interactive Seattle Times map here.


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