You have until November 3 to vote, everyone. That means picking up your ballot—it's in your mailbox—grabbing a black ink pen, filling in some bubbles, licking the envelope, sticking a stamp on it, and sending it in. If you're pro-weed, pro–mass transit, anti–police beating people up, and anti–Seattle turning into a city that only the rich can afford, then the Stranger Election Control Board's endorsement cheat sheet is right here for you. Use it or else.
But even if no one listens to the SECB—unlikely, haters!—and the worst people in each race end up winning spots on the Seattle City Council, we'll still have the same problems facing this city. And if those worser candidates are truly the "passionate progressives" they claim they are on the campaign trail, then there's no reason they shouldn't enact this checklist of common- sense changes with serious quickness. The notorious, sluggardly "Seattle process" is not an excuse. That's what we hate about the current council. We want a better, more livable city, and we want it now. Start here, winners, whoever you end up being:
Ban the box on housing applications. The city already banned job applications from having those little checkboxes that ask applicants about their criminal history (which were, in effect, a mechanism that allowed for employment discrimination against ex-cons). Now the city needs to do the same thing for rental housing applications.
Ban rent hikes at buildings with severe housing code violations. Council Members Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata have already done the work of drafting this bill, and there's a chance it'll be done before the winners of the November 3 election even move stuff into their new offices. But the council is also currently mired in the budget process, so it could get pushed back to early next year.
The Sawant-Licata bill would make it illegal for landlords to increase rent on any building with severe code violations like crumbling ceilings, broken or missing doors, broken heat, and insect or rodent infestations. But the bill could turn into more than just common-sense renter protection. If landlords sue, arguing this is actually a form of rent control, that could force the state's rent-control ban into the courts. If you're interested in any form of rent stabilization that's not currently allowed under the wrongheaded state law prohibiting rent control, then this bill could get you closer to changing that state law (and do it faster than waiting on our perpetually dysfunctional state legislature).
Stop move-in deals for high earners. Right now, it is perfectly legal for a landlord to advertise lower move-in costs (lower deposits, lower fees, etc.) for people who work at massive companies like Amazon, Google, or Boeing. Meanwhile, un-discounted move-in costs are a huge burden for the barista who makes that tech worker's coffee or a homeless person trying to secure permanent housing. Giving a special break to people who can easily afford those costs while demanding more from people who are struggling is gross.
But that's only part of the problem. Eric Dunn, an attorney at the Northwest Justice Project, says an even bigger issue is landlords refusing to rent to tenants who pay part of their rent with public assistance, child support, or some other nontraditional (but legal) source of income. There's a way to fix that and stop move-in deals for tech workers: pass source-of-income discrimination protections so landlords can't refuse an apartment to someone just because of how they pay their rent. The city already has this for people who benefit from the Section 8 housing program, but it should go further.
While you're at it, put caps on move-in fees and require landlords who want two months' rent and a deposit to allow tenants to pay some of that in installments.
Look at elections code loopholes. The council needs to pass a law closing the elections code loophole that allows for the threat of big-money independent expenditures to be used against individual candidates running for public office. If that sounds convoluted, here's how the problem played out in this very election cycle: A political consultant announced the formation of an independent expenditure group that would raise $200,000 for a big push against city council candidate Jonathan Grant's campaign. Then, Triad developer Brett Allen used the specter of this group in an attempt to bully Grant, saying he could make the independent expenditure group "go away" if Grant agreed to scuttle a lawsuit involving Triad's interests. Grant went public with the threat, and the group never ended up raising any money. But the whole thing highlighted a big problem. "Current Seattle election law does not appear to address potential independent expenditures," says outgoing council member Nick Licata, "and any potential quid pro quo that could result from those potential expenditures not being made." He says such activities represent "unethical coercion at best, extortion at worst." So far, the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission has indicated that what happened is outside its jurisdiction and isn't necessarily illegal. Which is completely insane.
Watch labor negotiations with the police union like a hawk and use the bully pulpit on accountability. Five out of the nine council members sit on the Labor Relations Policy Committee, which oversees the city's still-ongoing negotiations with the powerful, habitually-wagon-circling Seattle Police Officers' Guild. The city's ability to fire terrible cops will depend on the outcome of those negotiations. Council members should be vocal about the need for the city to bargain hard with the union. The cochair of Seattle's Community Police Commission, Lisa Daugaard, calls the negotiations the "Super Bowl of police accountability." We need to win.
Beyond that, council members can hold hearings in which they question members of the police force, including the chief, at length; they can use their platform to hold the police accountable over high-profile public incidents; and they can advocate for the Community Police Commission—which complains that it's being marginalized by the Feds and the mayor—to play a stronger role in the reform process.
Protect workers from the whims of the on-demand economy. Middle-class jobs are disappearing, and with them, benefits. The gig economy—part-timers, ride-for-hire drivers, freelancers of all stripes—is showing growth. But part-time workers aren't part-time humans with only partial needs and rights. The city council is currently considering a bill that would allow ride-for-hire drivers, like Lyft and Uber drivers, to collectively bargain. If the council moves forward with this bill, it would be a first—and quite possibly a legal shitshow. Supporters of the legislation are hoping to pass the Uber/Lyft bill before the newbie council members arrive, but new electeds will still have to figure out how to move forward with advancing labor rights in an economy where they've been deeply eroded.
Pass a workers bill of rights to make scheduling fairer for low-income workers. Sporadic, last-minute scheduling makes life harder for low-wage workers, especially if they're also trying to go to school, work a second job, or take care of their families. We have to do something about this.
Start by reading up on San Francisco's Retail Workers' Bill of Rights, which requires employers to give workers at least two weeks' notice of their schedules, one week's notice of scheduling changes, and pay if they're required to be on-call but don't actually get called in to work. Then talk to Working Washington, which is running a worker-led campaign on this issue.
Scared of small-business pushback? San Francisco's rules apply to businesses with a least 20 employees in the city, 20 locations globally, and standardized uniforms or decor. That's meant to target the bill of rights at large companies and franchises, where the most employees are affected by these problems.
Create a city paid parental leave insurance program. The state is working on its plan, but they've also been "working" on that since 2007. Quit waiting for them. Create a city parental-leave program in which employees—or both employees and employers—pay payroll taxes to fund the leave. That would make paid leave available to all private-sector employees instead of only those at companies that can afford to offer the benefit. Retiring council member Jean Godden has spent a long time talking about gender pay equity, but when paired with her incremental, Seattle-process style of governance, the results have been limited. It's time for the council to have a champion on the left for pay equity. Figuring out how to expand paid parental leave outside city hall is a starting place.
Use a growth impact fee to help fund Seattle Public Schools. Seattle's tech scene is driving unprecedented growth, construction is booming, and Seattle public schools remain worrisomely underfunded. A growth impact fee on new development could redistribute some of the city's new wealth to systems that desperately need it. Bellevue uses impact fees to deal with congestion. Let's use an impact fee for our schools.
Bring back the employee head tax. An employee head tax would tax employers per their number of employees and direct the funds toward public transit—a system that those employees rely on to get to work with less congestion.
Consider raising the commercial parking tax. Parking takes up an enormous amount of space in a city that's already suffering from too many cars and too few places to live affordably. Tax parking and use the revenues to build a better and more accessible transit system.
Make addressing the life-expectancy gap a political priority. Two years ago, local researchers discovered something shocking about Seattle. A cumulative health impact analysis of the Duwamish River Valley showed that people living in Georgetown and South Park were dying earlier than the rest of Seattle and King County. A full eight-year life-expectancy gap existed between these neighborhoods and the rest of the city. Even more appalling was the gap between Georgetown/South Park and Laurelhurst, a wealthy waterfront neighborhood. In Laurelhurst, people were living a full 13 years longer. "That was a major shock to me as a health person because lots of times we look at health disparities and it's usually a 10-year difference," Linn Gould, lead author of the report, said. "A 10-year difference is shocking, but it's even more shocking that we're quote-unquote liberal, and we're near Canada, and we do all the liberal things, and we have these health disparities."
These types of health outcomes draw on a number of factors, but Gould says that elected officials need to be aware of them. More than that, our newly electeds should believe in equity over equality. That also means investing in and listening to communities most adversely affected by air pollution (for example). It means finding out what those communities' needs are and then prioritizing them at the city level. The city has an interdepartmental team currently looking at health in the Duwamish River Valley, but new council members representing the districts shouldn't lose sense of the bigger picture. "We've started to make a turn for the better and it would be really unfortunate if when we go to districts city council people do not pay attention to anything but their own district," James Rasmussen, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition coordinator, said. "They have to be open enough to understand that there are incredible inequities in this city."
Make equity central to the Freight Master Plan and study its potential health impacts. Just like pedestrians, bikes, and buses, the city needs to figure out how to move freight through Seattle under the city's comprehensive growth plan for 2035. That means adapting certain streets for increased diesel truck traffic. The city aims to finalize the plan this fall, but recently heard blowback from residents of Georgetown who don't want more trucks spewing pollution on their already heavily polluted residential streets. The World Health Organization already recognizes diesel exhaust as a definite carcinogen, and increasing scientific evidence shows that exposure to tiny particulates that travel through the bloodstream may damage the brain. The city council needs to evaluate whether the plan would distribute the environmental harms associated with business fairly, and it needs to be held accountable for the outcome.