Shaun Scott (left) and Alex Pedersen (right) are running for Seattle City Council in District 4.
Shaun Scott (left) and Alex Pedersen (right) are running for Seattle City Council in District 4. Courtesy of Shaun Scott/Courtesy of Alex Pedersen

Welcome to a new election column from The Stranger that looks at the biggest policy issue dividing each pair of candidates fighting for a seat on the Seattle City Council this fall. In District 1, we decided it was funding homeless service policies. In District 2, it was the candidates' approach to police accountability. In District 3, it was progressive taxation. Today...

District 4: Shaun Scott, a Democratic Socialist, got through August's crowded primary with 23 percent of the vote. He and Alex Pedersen, a former aide for ex-council member and current PAC-puppetmaster Tim Burgess who won 40 percent of the vote in the primary, are vying for Rob Johnson's old seat. Johnson vacated the City Council early to take a job with the NHL. If you're wondering where District 4 is…


Pedersen, a moderate, and Scott, a leftist, are polar opposites as candidates. Scott believes there should be safe consumption sites in the district, Pedersen does not. Pedersen doesn't support bike lanes on 35th Avenue NE, Scott does. There are a lot more differences.

But what's the biggest issue that divides Scott and Pedersen?

Scott says: Environmental policy.

In a statement to The Stranger, Scott says:

The biggest policy difference in the District 4 race is that I believe climate change is real and that cities can do something to address it, and Alex Pedersen does not. From the Sierra Club to Seattle Subway to the 43rd LD Environmental Caucus, I'm happy to be supported by literally every single environmental organization that has endorsed in the District 4 race. I am proud to have repeatedly stood in solidarity with the Fridays For Future Youth Climate Strikers in 2019.

In Seattle, most of our emissions come from transportation, and most of those are from people driving long distances on their workday commutes. Reducing our carbon emissions means enacting comprehensive zoning reform that gets us more social housing closer to where people work. It means funding more multi-modal transportation like light rail and a comprehensive bike network. It means partnering with our comrades in organized labor to author a just transition away from energy sources and sanitation supplies that harm our environment. And it means taxing our largest corporations to pay for a Seattle Green New Deal, which I am the only D4 candidate to support.

My opponent in this race opposed Sound Transit 3 and the wonderful light rail stations and bus extensions it will bring our region. He opposed the Move Seattle Levy, which provides funding to improve transit, bike and rail connections in our city. He opposes bike lanes on major arterial roads.

This November, voters don't have time for Tim Eyman-lite. We need real action on making Seattle the climate leader it says it is. In the District 4 Seattle City Council race, the choice on the defining moral and existential question of our time is clear.

Pedersen says: Policing.

In a statement to The Stranger, Pedersen says:

"I believe our city needs many more police officers whereas Shaun Scott tweets about police 'abolition.'"

He then included this tweet:

We say: Zoning.

District 4 is one of the fastest-changing districts in the Seattle area. Two new light rail stations are planned to open in 2021 and with that will come transit-oriented development. Additionally, as part of the Mandatory Housing Affordability passed earlier this year upzone, northeast Seattle will see many of its neighborhoods reach new heights. The University District, for instance, is slated to become "the second major high rise area in Seattle outside of the Downtown core," writes The Urbanist. And, with the altitude will come more affordable housing units.

Currently, the majority of the 27 neighborhoods that will be built higher are outside of District 4. Look at this map the Seattle Times made to see what neighborhoods are changing. The ones with the most development are low-income, diverse communities. That's because of zoning laws.

Scott is all for this and then some. He believes in changing zoning laws to do away with single-family zoning. In Seattle, single-family homes make up two-thirds of developable land. Scott, who studied the racist history of redlining in Seattle, has a depth of knowledge about land-use policies. He believes in a denser, more affordable city that gives more people more options to live here.

From an interview with Jacobin:

In Seattle, it’s literally illegal to build apartments. It’s illegal to build multifamily housing. It’s illegal to build duplexes, for crying out loud. It’s illegal to actually build condos, even, in much of the city. So, even if you were a neoliberal housing hack, which I am not obviously, you’d still have to confront our zoning regime to do dense private construction, to say nothing of building public housing... We need to do better and — at the municipal and the national level — we need to put public housing back on the agenda to solve the housing crisis.

Pedersen, on the other hand, opposed the University District upzone. He wrote that the "massive and rapid upzone is 'cataclysmic' and therefore the opposite of stable."

Pedersen is opposed to changing single-family zoning. While he supports transit-oriented development, he would like to keep it around urban cores.

Here's what he told Real Change News about it:

I don't like the idea of sort of one-size-fits-all, blanket, top-down approach to zoning. I think it should be done strategically near transit frequent, reliable transit. I’m very much in favor of encouraging a developer to, let's say, assemble four parcels and build an apartment building for a low-income housing.

That's great. But a blanket up zone is basically saying that City Council trusts the private market to somehow solve the housing problem by giving away some sort of public benefit to the developer. I think that we need to be more strategic about where we put the upzones.