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Monday, June 10, 2013

Seattle One Step Closer to District Elections

Posted by on Mon, Jun 10, 2013 at 9:10 AM

The grassroots campaign to convert Seattle City Council elections to a hybrid district system may have enough signatures to qualify their charter amendment for the fall ballot, according to an announcement sent to reporters.

Tomorrow morning, Seattle Districts Now will turn in 45,000 signatures to place City Charter Amendment 19 on the November ballot. The group requires 30,943 valid signatures to qualify. If approved by voters, the city council will comprise two members elected citywide and seven members elected by sub-areas. Seattle Districts Now, which is run largely by neighborhood activists, says this would make the council more accountable—but voters rejected different district proposals in 1975, 1995, and 2003. Is the public with them this time around?

This calls for a poll!


Comments (41) RSS

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MacCrocodile 1
I'm rather curious to hear what the argument is against district elections. I don't think I've heard one yet, but apparently a number of Sloggers think there is one.
Posted by MacCrocodile on June 10, 2013 at 9:24 AM · Report this
The answer to this polling question is clearly "yes" - district elections are a fundamentally progressive thing. The challenge is that this particular initiative has been badly botched. It should be all 9 councilmembers elected by district, not just 7. And more importantly, the first district map used for an election should be drawn up by an independent commission, not by the people who proposed the initiative. I will still vote for it, but the people who put this initiative together made some big mistakes that may doom the effort.
Posted by junipero on June 10, 2013 at 9:38 AM · Report this

Now go away kid, ya bother me.
Posted by madcap on June 10, 2013 at 9:47 AM · Report this
Reverse Polarity 5
I'm skeptical. There are cities like Seattle that elect their councils city-wide, and others that elect by district. Cities that elect their councils by district don't seem to be significantly better run than those that elect city-wide. The difference seems to be theoretical or philosophical, so far as I can tell.
Posted by Reverse Polarity on June 10, 2013 at 10:59 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 6
I've watched a debate on this at West Seattle's Gathering of Neighbors, and I want to say yes. It would be nice if there was a really exhaustive pro/con breakdown by people who were not stakeholders either for anyone tied to the current/former Council members, or tied to the current movement to get it onto the ballot.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on June 10, 2013 at 11:18 AM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 7
@6, you and me both. I like the idea so much, but the fact that it's being heralded as some sort of panacea makes me worried its proponents are either brain-damaged or have some wacky agenda I'm not perceiving.
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on June 10, 2013 at 11:21 AM · Report this
Polarity #5--"Cities like Seattle"? There are only two others of the 50 largest cities in the U.S. still electing councils at-large, Columbus Ohio and Portland Oregon. Of all U.S. cities over 500,000 (33 as of 2010), in 1970 nineteen of them elected their council all at-large. Now it is three.

Junipero #2--The map was drawn by Richard Morrill, professor emeritus of geography at UW, not "by the people who proposed the initiative." With seven districts, it is difficult to draw the boundaries much differently without gerrymandering. Under the 2010 Census, West Seattle had exactly 1/7 of the city's population, and the district map draws itself as you move counterclockwise around the map. Seattle's population has since increased over 4%, from 608,700 to 634,500, and districts will have to be redrawn under the 2020 Census regardless (by a carefully structured commission set up in the charter amendment).

Polarity #6--"Better run" depends on your perspective. Do you think Seattle is "well run" by the current at-large council? IMO, having more constituent groups (geographic, economic, ethnic) represented makes a city "better run" by definition; the more voices in a city who actually have a voice the more real the "council" aspect of the City Council becomes. Districts promote democracy. For example, the first openly gay person elected to a city council of a major city in the U.S. was Harvey Milk. Why? Because San Francisco's voters had just switched to district elections (1976).

Joe #6 and Tom #7--We'd love your endorsement. There are many who are not active in SDN who support this effort. It was not difficult getting signatures on the petition. I'll be happy to talk with you any time; give me a call.

If Seattle wants to be a major city, it should have the government of one. A more representative council is a key element.
Posted by TobyinFremont on June 10, 2013 at 11:47 AM · Report this
Reverse Polarity 9
@8, I'm sitting on the fence, but your arguments are not persuasive. Just because most other large cities elect by districts does not automatically make that a better system.

Dredging up Harvey Milk from the 1970s is an odd argument, considering that 1/3 of our current city councilmembers are gay, despite the evils of city wide elections.
Posted by Reverse Polarity on June 10, 2013 at 12:10 PM · Report this
@1 The main effect to moving to district from at-large elections is that it would shift power away from big citywide interests (e.g., big downtown business, big labor) and towards neighborhoods (e.g., NIMBYs).

On the one hand, that would provide better accountability to a more limited set of constituents. It also would be theoretically easier to go door to door to get elected in a more grassroots way rather than getting the backing of big labor or big downtown business interests.

On the other hand, in order to get elected citywide, you have to appeal to voters across the city by building a coalition of different interests. To win a district, you only need to cater to the interests of voters in that district. Since the interests of each district will be different, this can easily lead to less consensus, more gridlock and getting less done (already a problem in Seattle).

Perhaps the best example of this is the effect this would have on urban planning. Voters living in single family home neighborhoods are likely to elect people who want to keep them that way and not increase density.
Posted by decidedlyodd on June 10, 2013 at 12:45 PM · Report this
@9 the Harvey Milk argument is still relevant because it shows that in SF, as in every other city that moved to district elections, it became possible for people and groups that had been marginalized to get elected to City Council. There are no Latinos on the City Council right now, only one Asian American - and he is also the only African American member. Only three of the nine are women. Cities with district systems generally have more diverse representation.

@10 actually, district elections don't empower NIMBYs. Folks like @8 think they do, that a districted City Council would function just like their neighborhood councils, but they are fundamentally different. District elections generally empower progressive people who have good values but can't break through citywide.

Also, @10, in cities with district systems like SF and LA, urban planning has proceeded just fine without the process being hijacked by NIMBYs - mainly because districted City Councils are more likely to produce urbanism-friendly candidates.

Too often Seattleites discuss political issues as if other cities do not exist. We have a lot of evidence to show how district elections work. The results are very favorable to most Slog readers. The challenge is not with the concept but with the specific design of this initiative.
Posted by junipero on June 10, 2013 at 12:54 PM · Report this
@11: Most of the other cities to which you refer have stronger executives than we do, i.e. mayors who can squelch the bickering when necessary and set plans in motion in a coordinated city-wide way.

I'm not sure how giving seven parochials near veto power over all decision-making in Seattle would do anything but worsen our intractable "process".
Posted by d.p. on June 10, 2013 at 1:43 PM · Report this
@9-- In addition to what @11 said:

Harvey Milk was politically different from our current council people, gay or straight. He was elected at a time when his constituency was largely disenfranchised from elected office. At least if you were out.

In the course of becoming a spokesperson for his community (the Castro) and running twice for at-large council seats (and losing), Milk became radicalized. Thus, he was more than just a "gay" candidate; he was opposed to the local power structure. Two article extracts (based on well-documented history):

From on-line bio… -

"Milk also wanted to tackle a wide variety of issues, from child care to housing to a civilian police review board."

From wiki article -

"[Harvey Milk] supported the reorganization of supervisor elections from a city-wide ballot to district ballots, which was intended to reduce the influence of money and give neighborhoods more control over their representatives in city government. He also ran on a socially liberal platform, opposing government interference in private sexual matters and favoring the legalization of marijuana."

My conclusion:

Milk was an activist liberal in a way almost none of Seattle's Council members have ever been. And he supported and was elected because of the transition from at-large to district elections. Seattle could use some of the energy such a change injects into a great city.
Posted by TobyinFremont on June 10, 2013 at 2:41 PM · Report this
@12 -- What particular decisions made by our current council do you think are so wonderful that would be precluded by a mixed district/at-large system? Hansen's arena give-away deal? Vulcan's South Lake Union give-away deal? Largely dysfunctional neighborhood planning and comprehensive planning and transportation planning and design review?

Do you think district representatives would oppose the real progressive measures passed by the current council, like paid sick leave? Why would they?

You've apparently already made up your mind when you use the pejorative "parochial."

BTW, Bellingham, Bremerton, Spokane, Tacoma, Yakima, and fourteen smaller Washington cities all use district or mixed systems.
Posted by TobyinFremont on June 10, 2013 at 2:51 PM · Report this
@9 A third of our councilmembers are gay? Check your math.
Posted by kurisu on June 10, 2013 at 2:52 PM · Report this
Reverse Polarity 16
@15, Oops. You're right. I miscounted. 2 of the city councilmembers are openly gay. I don't know why I was thinking 3.

Regardless, my point still stands. The LGBT community is hardly underrepresented on the city council.
Posted by Reverse Polarity on June 10, 2013 at 3:23 PM · Report this
My point, @14, is that many of our problems stem from our willingness to let individual council members obstruct and stagnate on the basis of whatever their pet interests may be.

Most of the peer cities nationally whose district-based councils you invoke actually function because they possess executives with the power to tell those councils to shut the fuck up when things actually need to get done.

I'm not saying that isn't without its own dangers, although it does require councillors to learn the art of collaboration if they wish to have a say in how things proceed. Here they learn only obstruction, so nothing gets done fully or correctly, ever.

In insisting that we have too little hyper-segmentation of parties to the "process", you are misdiagnosing the problem and offering an ill-conceived solution.
Posted by d.p. on June 10, 2013 at 3:39 PM · Report this
@17: I'm not sure what city you live in, but your claim that Seattle's at-large council members have "pet interests" doesn't hold water. The weakness of an at-large Council is that all nine members work to identify a safe, middle of the road position on ALL issues.

Let me ask you a couple questions to illustrate my point: Which Council member is the rapid public transit supporter? Which one is the "anything for more density" zealot? The answer is none of 'em.

Now, if you had a Capitol Hill district and a Southeast Seattle district, you might actually have a chance of getting Council members with those kinds of pet interests.
Posted by J.R. on June 10, 2013 at 4:51 PM · Report this
@17 - j.r.'s description of how decisions occur is more accurate than yours. You speak of "when things actually need to get done" but you don't identify which things, who is interested in those things, and who is harmed by those things but has no one representing them to mitigate the harm. You haven't specified how districts is "an ill-conceived solution" to the very specific dysfunctional governance items I listed @14. We need to have this debate, but we need to move away from generalities and consider how a change would effect actual decision making at City Hall.

I'll give a very specific example: The reconstruction of the North Transfer Station next to the Fremont Urban Village in South Wallingford. Since first considering the need to replace the "dump" in the early 1990s the City (SPU, City Attorney, City Council) refused to consider the siting issue (should the new major solid waste facility be built on the same site surrounded by residential and commercial uses, or put somewhere else?). Fremont and Wallingford residential and business communities pushed for years to obtain a site evaluation. Never happened.

With an at-large city council, we had no one to carefully evaluate our position let alone advocate for it. The single most responsive council member, Nick Licata, wrote a letter in support of our position, but was not chair of the utilities committee, was one voice without an ability to effect a vote, and we were never able to get the City to budge. Seattle process at its steamroller worst.

If Charter Amendment No. 19 had been adopted ten or fifteen years ago, the council member for District 4 would certainly have had in interest in what his/her constituents had to say about the siting of a major new City capital facility in their district. Obviously, it had to be built somewhere, and likely somewhere in Districts 4, 6, or 7.

Those three council members would have been forced to deal with an issue of great interest to many of their constituents. The end result might have been the same, but the process would have been an improvement over what happened. Constituents would have had a forum other than a non-responsive executive agency to get their concerns addressed. The City Council was hostile in the absence of any member with a geographical interest in the issue.
Posted by TobyinFremont on June 10, 2013 at 5:50 PM · Report this
Tipping your NIMBY hand with that "belongs in a residential neighborhood" language, Toby.

The problem with district representation and de facto veto power is that every gets to be an absolute NIMBY, absolutely.

With transit investments, your other example, your prescription is guaranteed to spread a bunch of pointless crap evenly around the districts, with zero investments in true high-capacity transit where it is most needed or will do the most good for the city as a whole.

Oh, and don't expect any council members to agree to "accept" density improvements in exchange for those thin-spread transit investments, since anti-urban tracts conveniently outweigh pro-urban forces in each of those districts as drawn. The people who ensured Roosevelt station will open on single-family house and a football field are the same ones clamoring loudly for this change.

Anyway, you've clearly tipped your NIMBY hand, and you're growing increasingly aggressive, too. If you truly desire progress, empower a strong executive with urban ideals, the way New York or Boston does.
Posted by d.p. on June 10, 2013 at 7:12 PM · Report this
Ah, the name calling comes out, d.p.: "NIMBY" (three times) and "aggressive." I don't desire "progress" (another dirty word to many around here); I desire more democracy. You appear to desire "urban ideals"; what does that mean?

FYI, my neighborhood accepts density and has since its inception. Fremont has been substantially multi-family zoned since the first zoning code in 1923. We accepted more density in the 1980s zoning fight that was as much about quality as density. FNC invited Capital Hill Housing to build a project in Fremont, and helped pay for it. FNC supported the Stone34 project. We just want development to fit with the existing community (i.e., for compl planning and zoning to be done right up front and for design review to be a functional process) and for impacts to be mitigated (i.e., for SEPA to mean something). We also want the city to provide (or require developers to provide) the infrastructure required to support new development, as promised in the GMA driven neighborhood planning process. Is all that what you mean by "NIMBY"?

Roosevelt was willing to accept more density than the city asked for, they just wanted it located differently (what does your garbled sentence about "single-family house" mean?), and for the city to give the neighborhood a say in how density should be accommodated in the new station area.

And you are aware of the large unused capacity for growth in Seattle without changing a single zoning designation? Have you reviewed the county's buildable lands report?…

Do you know what you're talking about with regard to "strong mayors" in Boston and NYC? Have you read their charters? Boston and Seattle are very close in population and have similar charters in terms of the respective powers of the council and mayor. Both provide for council control over the structure of the executive agencies, give veto authority to the mayor with 2/3 override by the council, and the mayor initiates budgets but the council adopts. NYC (population 8 1/4 million) is different; the mayor does have more power. However, in both Boston and New York, the district council members (Boston has a mixed system with three at-large) have significant influence over land use decisions in their area as a matter of political practice. I don't think NYC is comparable to Seattle at all. Boston is.

As for "aggressive;" what's that about? Because I'm not a passive-aggressive wimp and openly state my opinion? Because I provide counter arguments when I disagree with the basis for something you say? Grounded on the best data I'm aware of.

And by the way, please don't put words in my mouth: I never wrote "belongs in a residential neighborhood."
Posted by TobyinFremont on June 10, 2013 at 8:07 PM · Report this
@1 -- Arguments against district elections? You got it.

The quickest argument against it is the United States House of Representatives. The House elects its members by district, and as a result, we have the mess that we have. More people vote for Democratic House members than Republicans, but because of the way the districts are drawn up, we have a Republican House (yippee). That is the quick summary. Let me break it down a bit more:

1) The districts are arbitrary. A district like "Mercer Island" or even "Seattle" make some sense, because people feel like a part of that area. But once you get to "Ballard" you have trouble drawing the lines, let alone getting people to feel like they have Ballard specific issues that need addressing. This proposal is even worse, because it just draws the lines in an arbitrary manner.

2) You have a limited choice of candidates. Reichert holds the 8th district because no one better than him lives in the 8th district. If someone from the 7th district ran against him, they wold probably beat him easily. All politics aside, just look at qualifications. Would you want to pick your best musicians or athletes this way? One from each district? Of course not. The best way to get the best people is to pick them from as broad an area as possible. The same is true for city council members. We will probably end up with some excellent candidates going after each other in some districts while other districts have races against bozos (look at the state races if you want some examples of this).

3) It is undemocratic. Of course, you could argue it is more republican. But no one has yet to make a case that we need more republicanism. The desire to make it more democratic is obvious. If an overwhelming majority of people in one district feel a certain way, they shouldn't have their views overwhelmed by a slight majority in a couple of different districts. This goes back to the opening paragraph (the House example). We could easily have the same thing happen in the city (a majority of the city could support a proposal, but because those folks are concentrated in one district, they are outvoted by the other council members).

4) The status quo. So far, I haven't heard any good reason for this proposal. Keep in mind, I live in an area that lacks sidewalks. I'm sure if I had my own city council member, that representative would fight for sidewalks. A coalition from the other sidewalk free districts would be formed. But that still wouldn't form a majority. It would be pointless. You would still have to do the same thing that people do right now, which is bargain back and forth for votes.

The chief argument for district elections seems to be that "most cities do that". So what? Most cities don't have a public utility district that is owned by the city. We do, and we do quite well with it, thank you very much. Anyone who thinks we should change should have their head examined.

Posted by Ross on June 10, 2013 at 9:22 PM · Report this
@22: No, the chief arguments for district elections are real neighborhood representation, representatives with an actual point of view, and lower cost-elections that give better access to office to candidates without a lot of money. But thanks for yammering.
Posted by J.R. on June 10, 2013 at 9:41 PM · Report this
Ross @22, j.r. said it more succinctly, but I already wrote it, so:

The problem nationally is indeed "the way the districts are drawn up"; in many red states democratic leaning populations are disenfranchised. The problem is compounded by appallingly low voter turnout, especially in those same populations. These problems are not very relevant to governance in one city, Seattle, with relatively high voter turnout.

1) "it just draws the lines in an arbitrary manner." All you have to do is look at the map to see this is not true. Many boundaries follow water (Duwamish, Ship Canal), others follow main arterials (I-5, North 85th Street, North 50th Street, Aurora, Yesler Way). It is impossible to draw district boundaries without going through a few neighborhoods, but they are a small portion of the lines.

2) This is an elitist argument; it says that geographic districts that don't have home grown candidates with good enough "qualifications" should simply accept rule by their betters. By extension, we should have an all at-large Legislature because those reactionaries in eastern Washington clearly don't know what they're doing at the ballot box. I'm not looking for the "best musicians or athletes," I'm looking for the best person to represent my area, and the businesses and people here, not in eastern Washington or Bellevue (where much of the campaign money comes from).

3) This argument is difficult to follow. Sorry, but basically, "huh?" It would help if you could bring your argument down to specific decisions. Most people who study democracy and governance disagree; district elections are more democratic. Even better would be more districts, but then you add to the complexity and cost of city government.

4) "I haven't heard any good reason for this proposal." You haven't been paying attention. There are many of us all over town who are tired of a city council that is oblivious to our neighborhood and community interests. Like sidewalks. "You would still have to ... bargain back and forth for votes." So? You might actually end up with sidewalks as a result. That's a problem?

The chief argument for district elections is that most cities do it because it's more democratic and provides for broader representation of more people and less powerful interest groups.
Posted by TobyinFremont on June 10, 2013 at 10:12 PM · Report this
The chief argument for me is that I don't want to feel that I'm responsible for Rasmussen.
Posted by sarah70 on June 10, 2013 at 10:15 PM · Report this
Toby, I'm from Boston, and you're out of your league. The division of power between the mayor and the Council is nothing like it is here.

Seattle is "weak mayor", with the Council wielding its absolute budgetary authority as a stick to derail any possibility of a centrally-set list of priorities. Boston is "strong mayor", increasingly strong, and a district councilor that takes an antagonistic rather than collaborative approach will have power over precisely jack shit.

I can handle aggressiveness (as I said, I'm from Boston), but don't think I'll let you get away with passing off your hostility as merely "stating your opinion". Demanding that I defend the current councillors (straw man), dismissing with prejudice any differences between your proposal and the cities you inaccurately cite as precedent (begging the question), and positing your parochialism as "democracy" in order to position all who disagree as "anti-democracy" (general assholism) are just a few of your argumentative sins so far.

If you don't see yourself as a NIMBY, then you should probably stop using phrases like "give the neighborhood a say in how density should be accommodated", which is a known dog whistle to NIMBYs. The problem with what happened in Roosevelt was that it prioritized the current residents of the neighborhood at the direct expense of anyone who might wish to live, work, or visit there in the future. After convincing Sound Transit to spend an extra $330 million on a subway station at 12th NE, Roosevelt NIMBYs pushed through a plan that shoved 90% of the upzone back to the shitty, loud lots right next to the highway (closer to the station they rejected, and further from the expensive one they demanded). All the while prattling on and on about "protecting the views" of the most generic-looking high school building in America.

I did not exaggerate. With all the "accommodated" density shoved safely down the hill by the highway, the area north and east of the $330 million station will barely be permitted to change at all. The northern station entrance will, in fact, permanently open onto one-story bungalows and a gigantic track and field.

I find it fascinating that you're balking at the word "progress" after expending so much effort arguing that the forward-thinking platform valued by The Stranger readership would be better served through district elections. Again, this betrays that what you most want is to "have a say" by stymieing. You want to ensure that 100% of future growth happens on tiny tracts of previously upzoned land, forcing a permanent dichotomy in this city between those who bought single-family houses before the boom and those who must live in large and soulless new-construction apartment buildings. In your ideal, there can be no in-between (a.k.a. smart) density.

And though it would be nice if you were serious about transit, which I would agree desparately needs to start keeping pace with growth, your statement about "requiring developers to provide the infrastructure required to support new development" sounds like yet another expression of fear that it may become slightly less easy to park in front of your house, and which you would solve by mandating expensive and anti-pedestrian parking garages in every new building. Did I call that one correctly?

You've now revealed that behind your faux-democratic rhetoric is a solid helping of classic NIMBY antagonism and divisiveness. I feel very comfortable in calling you a NIMBY, and in concluding that NIMBYism is driving your push for district councillors empowered to undermine any coherent, coordinating vision for this growing city. I hope your initiative goes down in flames.

Posted by d.p. on June 11, 2013 at 1:58 AM · Report this
"Did I call that one correctly?" No you didn't--We need to move beyond cars, develop transit "smart communities," etc. FYI, I am one of the "car haters." We need to become much more local in how we plan to accommodate the coming changes in energy use and urban living, and IMO one of the most important is that people need to have more say in how development occurs in their communities. You can call that "faux-democratic rhetoric" all you want, but a meaningful voice in what happens in your community is an essential element of a democratic society. I didn't say a veto (NIMBY), and you ignore my record (and Fremont's recent history that I have helped create) in that regard.

"You want to ensure that 100% of future growth happens on tiny tracts of previously upzoned land." I never said that and I don't mean that. Current underutilized capacity is all over town, largely in "urban villages." Upzones will continue to occur, and that's fine. But again, they should not be done at the expense of the surrounding current residents or businesses, and the costs of providing for them. I am "desperate" for our government to stop subsidizing those whose primary goal is to make money. It has nothing to do with protecting parking.

Your aggressiveness is manifested by a refusal to acknowledge my arguments.

You make some good points and observations, but you do not have me pegged. We clearly have trouble hearing each other.

Posted by TobyinFremont on June 11, 2013 at 6:56 AM · Report this
Toby, if I misjudged your motives and dispositions, I truly am sorry. Perhaps it was also unwise to tit-for-tat your escalatory tone, although I still think you needlessly bolted out of the gate with aggression and dismissiveness toward anyone who doesn't share your view on this issue.

I'm genuinely curious what you think went "right" in Roosevelt; you seem to have never considered the possibility that the outcomes there could be objectively problematic. I feel like you heard that the "locals" won that fight -- which they did by getting an at-large Council member or two so vocally on their side that no other possibilities stood a chance -- and you simply accepted that the result must be good.

As I alluded to above, the result in Roosevelt is objectively troubling on two counts. Firstly, because almost all new residential units (of which there are barely even a few hundred) have been ghettoized into the undesirable shadow and noise of the highway, with hardly any organic growth allowed to occur in the actual village center or on the three other sides of the very, very expensive subway station. And secondly, because the process was more about expressing wrath at slumlord Hugh Sisley than about achieving an optimized result for future Rooseveltians and transit users.

I have no love for Sisley. In fact, I'm still baffled that the city didn't condemn and seize his willfully-derelict properties years ago, thus putting the kibosh on that source of distraction and antagonism. But good development strategy does not harm topography and good urbanism for the purpose of penalizing one jerk. That's the province of inflamed neighborhood passions. A lot of "local control" comes down to stuff like this -- a focus on present worries and gripes by present residents keeps overly-dependent politicians from sticking up for the needs of the future and its inhabitants. Thus the inevitable bedfellow association between "local control" and NIMBYism.

p.s. I don't think there's anything duplicitous about the district boundaries. It's just bad luck that the scattered placement of Seattle's urbanized areas (most are islands in a sea of medium/low-density sprawl) results in less-urban populations outweighing urban ones in every single proposed district. Yes, even in #3 (Capitol Hill/Central District/Madison/Leschi) and #7 (Downtown/Belltown/SLU/Queen Anne/Magnolia). The map reminds me of the way the Ohio GOP sliced Cincinnati up so that not a single congressman that would actually care about the city's needs would ever get elected.

If the districts were organized more concentrically, you might actually stand a chance of getting Council members from apartment-dwelling parts of Seattle elected. But your proposed districts will pull all power away from the center, and guarantee parochialism the seat of honor at our governing table.
Posted by d.p. on June 12, 2013 at 1:17 AM · Report this
dp@29--Thanks for your post. I'm running today so probably won't be able to respond much more before Times shut off comments.

I am not sure what your Roosevelt narrative means. I don't view the results as a "win" for anyone except Sisley property developers/architects/etc. The neighborhood planning process--whatever was left of it after years of dismemberment by Nichols and McGinn--took a horrible beating.

District boundaries--you sound paranoid. The district lines were drawn almost exclusively by Prof. Morrill and there was never any motive to favor any particular demographic. They are based on the criteria in Charter Amendment No. 19, Section 4 (essential criteria: "District boundaries shall be drawn to produce compact and contiguous districts that are not gerrymandered. The population of the largest district shall exceed the population of the smallest by no more than one percent. To the extent practical, district boundaries shall follow existing District boundaries, recognized waterways and geographic boundaries, and Seattle communities and neighborhoods. In drawing the plan, neither the Commission nor the districting master shall consider the residence of any person.") "No more than one percent" means "one person, one vote," an essential component of an equitable democracy.

Comparing the Charter Amendment No. 19 map to a gerrymandered map from Ohio is absurd. SDN is a very broad based group, and we could never have agreed on any gerrymandering criteria in the first place. Our goal is very simple: improve representative democracy in Seattle.

The only demographic info we ever looked at was racial percentages, and even that was only done after complaints from SEIU et al., well after the map was already done. You, SEIU, Erica Barnett (who posted a similarly paranoid argument at…), and anyone else are welcome to analyze the districts from the perspective of every criteria you can think of age, % renters, income, political history, etc. (assuming data is available).
Posted by TobyinFremont on June 12, 2013 at 2:05 PM · Report this
Now I'm extra-confused, Toby.

The Roosevelt Neighborhood Association -- representing only the whiniest and most vindictive NIMBYs who hated Sisley and treated density as something they were being asked to "take", like a burden or a punishment -- won that fight hand-down. I was pretty sure you'd said as much earlier in the thread, and called it a victory for local control.

The RNA, falsely claiming to speak for all locals, heavily modified the original proposed zoning plan to marginalize the high-density next to the highway, to keep the Sisley area east of the station relatively short, and to ensure that the area above 68th remained 100% single-family. Multi-family houses and row-houses -- the stuff of sustainable medium-density whose proximity to the subway stop would be appealing to young families -- are permanently banned just 300 feet from the $300 million entrance to the subway station, which is now effectively a private train for those lucky enough to already own a house nearby. The RNA version of the plan was accepted essentially verbatim.

Those NIMBYs and their pet Councillors set some very bad precedents with their hijacking of that public process, not least that "local control" should mean a tiny few benefiting from the billion-dollar transit investments paid for by the entire city.


Meanwhile, I've already said that I don't think the approach to district boundaries was malicious. But the "pie slice" form they take does, in fact, resemble the Cincinnati example, because the urban segments of the city are split apart and absorbed into larger districts where their needs and interests are outweighed by less-urban majorities.

Your plan will elect 7 anti-urban "neighborhood activists". Lesser Seattle will rule all decision-making. I guarantee it.
Posted by d.p. on June 12, 2013 at 9:42 PM · Report this
Freudian Slip Dept: apology to Dominic Holden for calling this the "Times" @31 oops

d.p. @33: The essence of what happened in Roosevelt is that the neighborhood was willing to accept significant increases in density in exchange for putting the rail station in the commercial center, but the city council basically told them to drop dead; "we're doing it our way." Largely to benefit the developers. I never believed that process was "a victory for local control;" it was largely the opposite, with a modicum of negotiated compromise (with which I am not familiar). And BTW, there is no such thing as "permanently banned" in zoning; designations are not made under the Federal Wilderness Act.

"the urban segments of the city are split apart and absorbed into larger districts where their needs and interests are outweighed by less-urban majorities" -- The essence of democracy is equal representation, one person, one vote. "Urban interests" are not segregated geographically. A similar argument was made in Publicola, linked in my comment @31 above. Go read the comment thread there for responses to this absurd argument.

As for the rest of your post: "Those NIMBYs and their pet Councillors" - "the whiniest and most vindictive NIMBYs" - "hijacking of that public process" - "Your plan will elect 7 anti-urban 'neighborhood activists'" -- You accuse me of being "aggressive"?! Your spittle is all over your key board. Give the rhetoric a rest, please.
Posted by TobyinFremont on June 13, 2013 at 1:40 PM · Report this
For the fourth time, you are wrong on Roosevelt, Toby.

The adopted plan is exactly what the RNA wanted. They won. They got a super-awesome subway on the public dime, and then they "accepted" density on shitty tracts away from that subway. And they, like you, keep using the word "accepted". NIMBY terminology.

A different blog has been steadily revealing just how deeply controlled by Lesser Seattle forces this initiative is. The primary funder of signature gathering? An Aurora businessperson opposed to bus lanes. Richard Morrill? An anti-density crusader frequently cited on the subject by the Seattle Times.

This is the work of NIMBYs looking to control the city more fully than they already do. You're either lying about your own motives, Toby, or your naivete is being grossly taken advantage of.
Posted by d.p. on June 13, 2013 at 5:29 PM · Report this
p.s. The essence of city-wide elections is "one person, one vote!" It's the arbitrary district boundaries that start to muddle that up.

Sounds like you're arguing for less democracy, rather than more.
Posted by d.p. on June 13, 2013 at 5:31 PM · Report this
p.p.s. Having not been to the UW, I was unaware that "Richard Morrill, professor emeritus of geography" is a nationally known anti-density, anti-transit, anti-smart-growth activist.

So I no longer believe the drawing of districts to dilute the voting power of urbanized areas was accidental. It appears to be a straightforward case of gerrymandering.

"One person, one vote" my ass. You and your friends are on a crusade.

Posted by d.p. on June 13, 2013 at 6:50 PM · Report this
Whee! The 1960s were awesome! Lesser Seattle forever!

(Noicon, thanks for at least being honest about your regressive wrongness.)
Posted by d.p. on June 13, 2013 at 10:02 PM · Report this
d.p. @35,36,37 -- Again your calling me "aggressive" comes to mind. Review the last few posts and tell me who's being uncivil here. Your imputation of bad motives that have no basis in fact is paranoid and obnoxious.

BTW, if you were paying attention (or being honest) you'd know that the principal supporters of SDN agree on very little except Charter Amendment No. 19. The only major urban interest not represented is the "growth coalition" or the ruling "regime" (see "The Fault Lines of Power: Urban Theory and Disciplinary Divides," Gendron 2009).

I'm focused on the content and the likely results of Charter Amendment No. 19, not on who is funding the grass roots effort to get it adopted into law. The amount of money here is a pittance in the urban scheme of things. Calling the SDN map "gerrymandering" really shows how ignorant you are, aside from the guilt-by-association fallacy of your argument. See if you can figure out how Morrill drew the map to favor NIMBYs, Craftsman homeowners, people over 40, non-minorities--any demographic you want. Better yet, draw a "non-gerrymandered" map; I'd love to see it.

Noicons @38 -- Your defeatism makes me look like Mr. Positive-all-the-time (my wife would have a good laugh). But I do appreciate your likely "yes" vote. I think districts will make a difference, based on the documented and studied experiences of numerous other cities. If nothing else, Charter Amendment No. 19 will make the 2015 Seattle election the most exciting in living memory and longer; all nine council seats will be open. All bought by wealthy elites? I don't think so.

Districts are not a panacea for all our governance problems. But shouldn't we at least try to improve the situation before things fall apart?
Posted by TobyinFremont on June 13, 2013 at 10:45 PM · Report this
I really don't need lessons in civility from you, Toby. From the moment you arrived in this thread, you've treated with disdain and attempted to dismiss as undemocratic anyone who dares point out that your peer-city government examples are inaccurate, that vaguely-defined "local control" is not inherently better or more noble, and that the primary forces behind this initiative explicitly wish to clamp down on all non-suburban-style growth and freeze their vision of Seattle in amber.

I haven't a clue if your assiduousness on this thread stems from a naive privileging theory over on-the-ground experience that "local control" tends to be hijacked by the most regressive forces to do real harm to the general populace -- see: "states' rights" -- or if you have some ulterior motive as a spokesperson for the campaign. I don't much care which is the case. All I know is that you insist on shilling for a campaign that seeks explicitly regressive outcomes, and which will succeed in those goals if it passes. Therefore your credulous claims about the neutrality of the proposal must be countered.

Again, there is nothing inherently noble about ultra-localism, nor does it necessarily provide better access to individual citizens. It does make access even easier for highly organized interest groups, such that "one person, one vote" is quickly subordinated to "those who shout loudest". So please dispense with that illusion of valor.

Regarding district boundaries, I have twice pointed out that concentric districts would harm the interests of urbanized areas less than the districts drawn. If the swath of the city just north of the ship canal were unified, for example, rather than divided in a way that ensures Wallingford and U-District votes are overwhelmed by urban-phobic Wedgwood, Sand Point, and Ravenna while central Ballard and Fremont are ever-so-slightly outweighed by the suburban parts of Greenwood/Green Lake and the sprawling areas north of Ballard. Similarly, it would have made sense to cluster Lower Queen Anne, SLU, First Hill, and inner Capitol Hill/C.D. in a thoroughly urbanized district, rather than ensuring the vast craftman wonderlands of Queen Anne Hill, Magnolia, North Capitol Hill, Madison Valley/Park, Madrona, etc. will have the predominant electoral say.

It's hard to claim neutrality when an old-school prophet of lawns and cars has carefully drawn the districts so that no urbanized majority can be found even in the districts abutting downtown.

p.s. If you insist on continuing this thread, please make sure that your rebuttal has actual substance, rather than hypocritical accusations and vague platitudes about the false neutrality you claim to represent.

Posted by d.p. on June 14, 2013 at 4:53 PM · Report this
"p.s. If you insist on continuing this thread, please make sure that your rebuttal has actual substance,"

Back at ya. Let's see your map.
Posted by TobyinFremont on June 14, 2013 at 7:34 PM · Report this
I'm not wasting my time drawing a detailed map. I just described the districts to you.

If you can't see how that would dilute the representation of urbanized areas less than the map drawn by stridently anti-density Richard Morrill, then you're an irredeemable idiot.
Posted by d.p. on June 14, 2013 at 11:13 PM · Report this
d.p. -- Your description is worthless. Until you produce an analysis showing how the SDN map is "stridently anti-density," using land use, demographic, and voting data that is readily available, you have done nothing except help our effort by highlighting the arguments many of our opponents rely on. Your constant name calling doesn't hurt either.

Send your analytical work to Dominic (or better yet, Publicola); I'm sure they would love to run a story on it.
Posted by TobyinFremont on June 15, 2013 at 1:29 PM · Report this
Give it a rest, Toby.

It really couldn't be simpler: in each of Morrill's districts, the craftsman/"save our parking" residents ever so slightly outnumber the islands of urbanity. This is, of course, also the case citywide; he just manages to capitalize upon geographic placement in order to reduce pro-density voting power from nearly half to essentially zero.

It is increasingly clear that the only progressives who support this plan are either ignorant of the forces behind it or are total morons. You seem to be the latter. Don't bother replying; time spent debating with you is time thrown in the garbage.
Posted by d.p. on June 15, 2013 at 5:54 PM · Report this
d.p. -- I'll be happy to debate you, whoever you are, in public. Recorded. If you really hate Charter Amendment No. 19 so much and think you know so well how to back up your conclusory arguments, you will make it happen. Let me know when you've got it set up; I'm easy to find.
Posted by TobyinFremont on June 16, 2013 at 6:50 PM · Report this

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