With Nick Licata out of the race, Council Member Mike OBrien is running for the 6th District.
  • City of Seattle
  • With Nick Licata out of the race, Council Member Mike O'Brien is running for the 6th District.

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This one isn’t a huge surprise, especially after his ally and fellow 6th-Districter Nick Licata announced last week he was retiring from the council, but now it’s official: Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien will run for reelection this year in the newly created 6th District, which covers a northwestern chunk of the city including Ballard and Fremont.

O’Brien says he’s always known he’d run for another term, but if Licata had decided to run in the 6th District, he would have run for one of two citywide spots instead. O’Brien has lived in the house he owns in Fremont for 20 years and says he’s “excited to have the opportunity to fight for” the district where he makes his home.

O’Brien is a reliable progressive who came to the council from the Sierra Club in 2010. He’s the guy who sponsored the city’s plastic bag ban and led the charge against phone books (although his ordinance allowing people to opt out of phone book delivery and charging companies for delivering them was eventually struck down). He sponsored legislation to prevent city council members from rolling over huge financial war chests from campaign to campaign, and he tussled with Council President Tim Burgess last year when he tried to get public financing for city council elections on the ballot. He’s supported striking fast food workers and said “no thanks” to a swanky council retreat sponsored by Boeing and other large corporations last year.

When the council voted on the tunnel project in 2011, O’Brien was the only opponent (one of the things that aligned him so closely with then-mayor Mike McGinn), and he continues to be an outspoken skeptic of that project. (These days, he’s joined in that skepticism by the council’s newest member, Kshama Sawant.)

Now, he’s particularly focused on what plans the city and state have in place for closing the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct.

“The decision to shut down the viaduct will ultimately be made by people other than me,” O’Brien says, “but I will continue to push for having transparency around the engineering and structural information and a good decision-making process, so that if it gets to the point where it’s unsafe, we as a community will make the right decision.”

As chair of the council’s land-use committee, he’s leading an effort to try to create linkage fees, where developers building new stuff across the city have to pay toward creating affordable housing. That won’t solve all of the city’s affordability issues by a long shot, but could be a significant step toward creating more housing for low-income people as the city continues to grow. (As chair of land use, he'll also have a hand in getting the council to approve the mayor’s recent proposal to add three new homeless encampments in the city.)

In 2012, O’Brien helped create the Road to Housing program, through which churches offer people who are living in their vehicles a parking lot where they can stay, access to a bathroom, and sometimes other services like meals and clothes. Then, case managers work with them to help find them housing. O’Brien says 76 families have gotten permanent housing through that program.

But on microhousing, O’Brien supported new rules that some supporters of that type of development argued would make it less affordable. Those new requirements included minimum size requirements for the apartments and minimum car and bike parking. And in 2010, he supported—but changed his mind at the last minute and opposed—a Burgess bill creating harsh penalties for panhandlers. (That passed, but McGinn vetoed it.)

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O’Brien says he’ll spend another term advocating for more transit (including bringing light rail to Ballard, which would be in his district), fighting coal trains, trying to figure out how to meet the city’s goal of being carbon-neutral by 2015 2050, and finding more ways to keep the city affordable.

"There's a kind of uncertainty about what’s going to happen next," O'Brien says. "Tools like linkage fees and low-income bus fares the county is implementing on transit are all attempts to make the system work better for a range of incomes, but there is a fundamental income inequality we face, and ultimately we're not going to be able to allow that to continue growing... My hope is that we get a council that's committed to continuing to take aggressive steps toward building a more just society."

So, who’s ready to say they can do it better? Well, no one yet. So far, O’Brien is the only candidate to announce or file in the 6th District.