Amazon drops another $200,000 on their attempt to buy political representation at City Hall: The lingering question after August’s primary was not whether Amazon would spend more but how much more Jeff Bezos was willing to throw down to install an Amazon-friendly city council. The Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), the Chamber of Commerce’s no-limits Super PAC, received a $200,000 donation from Amazon on August 20, according to a report filed this week with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC). Amazon had previously given $200,000 to the PAC in March of this year and $50,000 late last year. It looks like the magic number for Bezos, the richest man in the history of the world, is $450,000 when it comes to buying a council that won't force his company to pay for the housing and homelessness crisis they are largely responsible for. At least so far. Who knows if the world’s richest man will stop at $450,000.
Reminder: Super PACs face no donation limits... unless and until sitting city council member Lorena Gonzalez’s proposed Super PAC donation limits get passed into law. Super PACs have no donation limits because they do not directly coordinate with council candidates. But that doesn’t stop them from spending Bezos’s cash on Amazon-approved candidates, like Egan Orion in District 3, who is currently the number one recipient of Super PAC help, with over $156,000 spent by CASE to help get him elected.
Hey mayor, it’s not illegal to talk to reporters: I spent the last three weeks trying to get Mayor Jenny Durkan to talk about how and why she is getting involved in this year’s city council elections, but the mayor clearly doesn’t want to talk. At least not to The Stranger. She gave election-related interviews to Crosscut and KUOW, but the most I could get out of her was 45 seconds at a press conference before her staff cut me off.
Is Juarez safe? Current Seattle City Council Member Debora Juarez, in District 5, failed to get 50 percent in the primary, a bad sign for an incumbent running for reelection. But after talking to one of her former election opponents, it sounds like she may still be able to pull off an election win. I spoke with John Lombard, who won 13 percent of the primary election’s votes in that district, and he said he thinks Juarez will likely be able to beat Safe Seattle-supported Ann Davison Sattler when the two face off in the general election.
The gender editors speak out: The first column from Crosscut’s new “Gender Editors” came out this week and it’s actually pretty interesting. It examines how council member Lorena Gonzalez’s campaign announcement for attorney general was covered by Melissa Santos at Crosscut and by Jim Brunner at the Seattle Times. The column says that Crosscut's own writer spent almost no time examining Gzonález’s policy positions, instead focusing on why she was running, while spending ample time covering other male candidate’s positions. Brunner’s story, by contrast, provided details on Gonzalez’s key legislative accomplishments and future policy priorities.
“As far as first impressions for prospective attorneys general go, these two articles offer very different pictures of the candidate. One provides context and insight on experience and public service record; the other skimps on that background,” the editors write. Santos, when asked for comment about her story, told the Gender Editors at her own publication that she spent more time covering the male candidates’ policy positions because they were fairly unknown politicians to Crosscut readers, whereas Santos believed Gonzalez was well known to Crosscut’s readers.
City council candidate Alex Pedersen corrects himself regarding upzones: District 4 candidate Alex Pedersen voluntarily changed his website today after he was called out for fearmongering around the effects of upzones using incorrect information. Pedersen, a well-established critic of bringing density to Seattle’s apartment-banned neighborhoods, had implied on his website that increasing the allowed size of buildings (a.k.a. upzoning) increases rent costs with this alarming line:
Unmitigated upzoning can create economic disruptions and spike land values. Higher land values can mean higher taxes, which are passed along to tenants.
The only problem with that thinking? It’s not true—increases in property value do not necessarily equate to increases in property taxes—and the opposite might be true. Increasing property values by increasing density could actually lower your tax rate, even if the property you’re living in still increases in value, as District 4 constituent Paul Chapman wrote in this piece for Medium.
Chapman, who has also written a pro-density editorial for the Seattle Times, describes how Washington’s complicated tax system works (something Pedersen should have known as a former legislative aid at City Hall). This gets complicated quickly, but basically the city/county/state can only raise as much property tax as their respective budgets require. So property tax collections are calculated based on the value of your property, but overall property tax collections are determined by government budget needs and the assessed value of all property. Your property tax rate fluctuates with the net value of all property in the city. This is how the state’s Department of Revenue describes it: “Individual tax bills are based on a number of factors, including how much your property changes in value relative to other property in a taxing district…”
Here’s how Chapman describes it:
…the value of your property matters, but only as a fraction of the total property value. This is where it gets really weird. Let’s say your house is worth $1M (cool for you!) and all Seattle property is valued at $200B. At a 1% tax, you pay $10K. Now the value of all Seattle property doubles to $400B, but your property increases to just $1.5M. The property tax rate has dropped to 0.505%, and you pay $7,575.
So here’s where Alex Pedersen really gets things wrong and by misleading the electorate he’s committing political malpractice. New construction LOWERS property tax. Upzones that result in new construction LOWER property tax.
Pedersen’s campaign changed the wording of their website and offered this comment when I reached out this morning: “It's not helpful to take quotes out of context. In this case, it’s about preventing economic displacement and meant to compare a block that's been upzoned to a neighboring block that hasn't. I’ve updated it to say ‘can increase taxes’ so it’s hopefully not confusing."
Phil Tavel doesn’t think we have a housing crisis. Local conservative radio personality Jason Rantz gave District 1 candidate Phil Tavel 20 minutes of airtime this week for Tavel and Rantz to team up and trash District 1 incumbent Council Member Lisa Herbold. After Rantz describes Tavel as coming in “a close second” to Herbold (Tavel actually lost to Herbold by 18 percentage points), the two men then riffed on some of the local conservative movement’s greatest hits, claiming Seattle is dying, that driving a car in Seattle is terrible, and that we should blame homeless people more.
Tavel described compassionate policies as “the horrible enabling parent” to the city's homeless population. “The analogy that I use,” Tavel told Rantz, “is it’s like parents [who] have the 40-year-old pot head on the couch playing video games and leaving their stuff all over.”
Right, because people who have been forced onto the streets because of rapidly rising housing costs and income inequality are really just playing too many video games and smoking too much pot. It’s almost like these conservatives don’t understand economics.
Tavel doesn’t even think we’re in a housing crisis. “I don’t see our trajectory being good, and I don’t see any solutions coming from Lisa other than continually saying this is an affordable housing crisis, and it’s not,” Tavel said to Rantz. He completely dismisses the idea that current homelessness crisis might have more to do with the exploding costs of housing in Seattle, where we see rents increase more in some months than other cities like Chicago see in an entire year.