The Seattle City Council killed Council Member Kshama Sawant’s decade-long quest for a rent control trigger law 6 to 2 in front of a crowd of lefties and landlords. Some council members found technocratic excuses for voting no without explicitly parroting landlord talking points. Others explicitly parroted, others stayed quiet, and Council Member Teresa Mosqueda just didn’t sign on to the Zoom meeting.
Still, Sawant said the failure of what could have been her crowning achievement before she leaves council was not a total loss. The disappointment could bring energy to the project for which Sawant will leave the dais, Workers Strike Back, which aims to build a workers’ party.
“The important lesson for today: We have seen progressive Democrats betray us. It is not the first time, but if it took until today for you to open your eyes then I would consider this a job well done. Let's make sure that we keep fighting,” Sawant said.
Sawant’s rent control ordinance would limit rent increases to the rate of inflation based on Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Area Consumer Price Index. This is sometimes called “first generation” rent control, whereas policy wonks call rent control with more exemptions and more flexibility for rent hikes “second generation.”
Even if Sawant’s bill passed, the City still could not implement rent control until the State Legislature decided to lift the ban it imposed in 1981. Despite holding a strong majority for years, the State Democrats have failed to overturn the ban. Sawant and other rent control supporters argue that the trigger law would pressure state lawmakers to overturn the ban or help launch a movement to lobby them.
If the state legalizes rent control and the City does not have a trigger law, there’s no guarantee the future council will pass a policy as sweeping or implement rent control at all, especially since the council will lose its one socialist member and will likely become much more conservative after the November election.
Between loud hisses and boos, council members tried to explain to a room full of renters why they sided with their landlords.
Council Member Sara Nelson spoke against the legislation first. She argued that rent control would drive out “mom and pop” landlords, a term of endearment that council members use instead of leeches. She also said that rent control would stifle development. And even though the bill would not immediately go into effect, Nelson said developers and landlords would jack up prices in anticipation of the anti-gouging measure.
Others claimed to like rent control but not necessarily this version. Council Member Lisa Herbold argued that “second generation” rent control would help keep rents from rising exponentially without stifling development. She said she may have proposed amendments if Sawant had not been such a big meanie about watering down her bill.
Council Member Andrew Lewis, who did not speak at the meeting, argued in committee last month that the bill was not strategic. He did not think it would give Olympia lawmakers a change of heart or open a legal battle to throw out the state law without the help of the Legislature. Herbold even claimed that the trigger law might make the State even more apprehensive of overturning the ban if they hated the City’s version of rent control enough.
Mosqueda was absent for the meeting. She asked to be excused July 10 and got the absence approved the week after Sawant’s bill failed in committee. She did not tell The Stranger why she could not attend but she sent a long statement that did not indicate support.
CM Mosqueda sent me a statement about her absence. I tried to summarize it, but I think I'll just leave it here in full: pic.twitter.com/TAodn1NsVS— Hannah Krieg (@hannahkrieg) August 1, 2023
In a Hurry
Juarez, who also had a prior commitment she would rather attend, said she requested to vote on Sawant’s bill next week, but Sawant declined.
Sawant seemed to be in a hurry to get the bill before the council, even though her committee signaled the bill’s ultimate failure by voting against it last month.
The meeting took place after sources close to the situation say a man made a “gun threat” when he asked the City Clerk this morning if he could bring a gun to City Hall and if the council members would be at the dais. The Seattle Police Department told The Stranger they could not find any report of a gun threat during the committee hearing this morning.
Sources report the Council president sent council members and staff home, but Sawant decided to stay. Sawant’s office did not respond to requests for comment as to why they did not warn the supporters they organized of the threat they knew about.
In a statement about a July 21 committee meeting that was released today at 5:11 pm for some reason, Juarez said she "issued a department-wide memo reiterating the concerns my office has received about safety in Council chambers" after learning that "during a recent committee meeting some participants and members of the public were made to feel unsafe inside City Hall and in Council chambers." She denounced violence and said her office "has alerted our City Clerk and head of City Hall Security about the concerns expressed to me, in an effort to ensure that we are doing all that is possible to host meetings that will allow for safe participation by the public."