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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Richard Conlin's Chance to Be a Hero

Posted by on Thu, Aug 15, 2013 at 3:24 PM

We've faulted Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin for many things recently—the size and shape of his head, say, and his smugness in the face of criticism. Oh yeah, and then there's his record. But if you're a densinista like we are (seriously, that's what anti-density activists call us now!), it's hard to fault him on his love of urban density. He'll happily bike over to any neighborhood group and explain with a smile why taller buildings in more places are good for the city, regardless of the outcry. Which means that often, he's siding with big, wealthy developers over sympathetic neighborhood residents pleading for limits on new construction.

But the controversy I wrote about in this week's paper—a corporate pharmacy trying to build squat, car-oriented buildings on busy corners in pedestrian neighborhoods all over the city—is a unique opportunity for Conlin to be on the side of both density and neighborhoods. He heads up the city council's land-use committee, and the activists organizing to stop these developments are hoping to use legislation as a major strategy. And the opportunity to fight bad developments is not only perfect for Conlin—it's perfectly timed.

His opponent in the upcoming election, Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant, has criticized him repeatedly for being a corporate tool who votes against The People—and her pitch is clearly working, since she got 35 percent of the primary vote to his 48 percent. Numbers like that are a big deal in this particular race. He's a well-funded, well-known four-term incumbent, she's a motherfucking Socialist with less than one-seventh of his campaign money—$21,330 to his $154,298, according to the most recent reports. Primary voters also trend more conservative than general election voters.

Taking a stand against these developments is both voter- and urbanist-friendly. He doesn't have to compromise an iota of his values to rescue at least three neighborhoods from bullshit corporate projects. It won't be too easy; land-use legislation can take a long time and emergency legislation is hard to pass. Also, as I said in the piece, two of the projects are already at a stage in the planning process where they only have to follow the rules that were in place when they first applied.

But if there were ever a moment for Conlin to polish his suit of armor, step astride his white horse, and ride off into battle, this is it. The timing is so serendipitous, it feels like the Good Lord designed it on high, just for his friend Richard. Hey there, buddy! I got you this present! Do you want to open it right now? I even loosened the ribbon for you! Go for it!


Comments (16) RSS

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Matt the Engineer 1
And that's why the Stranger should have backed Conlin. Ok, I know the socialist is tempting - it's actually great that we'll have two good choices. But density should trump everything else. Global warming is real, and reducing travel miles is our best weapon in this region (besides blocking coal trains). Our best lever for that fight is density, which also happens to make for a great city.

Yes, we need the other side of the liberal spectrum to have a great city. But I'll take an anti-panhandler over an anti-growth advocate any day.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on August 15, 2013 at 3:51 PM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 2
(note: I don't actually know if Sawant is anti-growth, I'm just assuming. Can you see her shaking hands with a developer on a new big highrise?)
Posted by Matt the Engineer on August 15, 2013 at 3:52 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 3
Waaaaaaait, I smell a troll.

This whole thing is written like a good faith appeal to Richard Conlin to do the right thing, proving he stands for what he says he stands for, and not just big money. But you guys know how it's going to turn out, don't you? Conlin's going to....

*spoiler alert*
...side with CVS, isn't he?

(@2 Is there much union support for building? Ummmmm... let's think... YES. Yes, there is big time union clout behind construction and the high paying union jobs it brings. So where would Sawant stand on that... where or where...? Socialists... unions... socialists... unions... Ummmm....? Dang, who knows the answer? )
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on August 15, 2013 at 4:12 PM · Report this
@2 Commenter 3 is totally correct. Of course Socialists support density. For many of the reasons you state. Of course it's better for people to be able to affordably live close to where they work, and course it's better for the environment for people to live in cities with excellent public transportation.

But we don't have to make the false choice of density over social justice. We have a candidate that will stand for both. Will Sawant pose for publicity pictures with wealthy developers? Probably not... but that's also not really what I'm looking for in a city council member.
Posted by ANOPRAX on August 15, 2013 at 4:28 PM · Report this
Could it be that ever since Kshama lumped McGinn in with the whole city council as useless "corporate-funded democrats" I think maybe the Slog is re-thinking their hatred of Conlin?
Posted by ian on August 15, 2013 at 4:41 PM · Report this
Good article. Well written and carefully written except for this:

a unique opportunity for Conlin to be on the side of both density and neighborhoods

I live in a neighborhood and I want more density. Lots of people live in neighborhoods (or want to) and want cheaper housing. With density it is possible. Without it, all things being equal, rent will be higher. It's not just a choice between Thai restaurants and old houses. It is a choice between one thousand dollar a month rents and two thousand dollar a month rents. Sawant wants the same, but I'm not sure she can deliver the same results (more housing which means lower rents). More to the point, she picked the wrong person to run against. The council is full of members who fight Conlin on his density crusade (and may fight him on this one). She should have run against them. Matt is right -- The Stranger fucked up in endorsing Sawant. Other than the paper, just about everyone who endorsed O'Brien endorsed Conlin (a few labor unions go either way).
Posted by Ross on August 15, 2013 at 4:43 PM · Report this
I support urbanism! Why would a conservative support it? Because everywhere you have urbanism you have white people with money and $5 heirloom tomatoes. Sure, a few cute Somali families get a cheap apartment, but you won't find ghetto trash in the Urbanist green dream. And lower rents? Horseshit. Except for a few Somali families, rent will be higher in all the new units and if you can find an older unit that has lowered its rent in a hip 'hood, let me know.

Mind you, put density in my single family 'hood north of the Ship Canal and I'll shoot urbanists on sight. So yeah density in urban cores, slu etc.
Posted by Sugartit on August 15, 2013 at 6:01 PM · Report this
ScrawnyKayaker 8
@5 Doubt it. Didn't the SECB endorsement even say they wouldn't want a whole council full of Sawants? The point of having *one* rhetorical bomb-throwing maniac on the body is to insure that every side of issues get aired, not just those the polite powers-that-be want heard. Sure, she'll throw a few of those bombs at the mayor, too.
Posted by ScrawnyKayaker on August 15, 2013 at 10:24 PM · Report this
GhostDog 9
As someone whose state hosts the top 4 areas of density I really don't get the big deal. Rents are still through the roof, and you have to deal with everyone else's screaming matches and smells.
Posted by GhostDog on August 16, 2013 at 7:39 AM · Report this
OK, folks. Please read this carefully. This is my claim:

1) All other things being equal, adding more housing reduces rental prices.

That's it. I've read two counter arguments (@7, @9) and I've read dozens of similar counter arguments. They always basically go along the lines of "Manhattan is dense, but rents are sky high!". Yes, yes they are. But guess what folks? They would be even higher if Manhattan (or other areas of New York) simply stopped construction. The key phrase here is "all other things being equal". Rent is cheap in Detroit. It is expensive in Seattle. But if not for all of the new buildings added in the last few years, it would be even more expensive in Seattle.

Then you have parking (and other) requirements for new construction. This adds to the cost of development. This means that a new building won't get built unless the owner figures he or she can get high rents to justify the extra cost of development. Lower the cost of development (by removing those requirements) and more people build apartments. More people build apartments, and rent (all other things being equal) is lower.
Posted by Ross on August 16, 2013 at 8:32 AM · Report this
GhostDog 11

So you don't contest the noise, smells, violence that spikes at the slightest thing(i.e. heat), and all the other really nasty side effects of density?

If that is the case, I will happily concede that rents don't spiral up as quickly in high density areas all other things being equal.

It just makes an area unlivable in a host of other ways.
Posted by GhostDog on August 16, 2013 at 9:03 AM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 12
@11 The suburbs called. The have a few homes ready for you.

Violence, per capita, is not higher in cities. Noise is handled through building codes (construction type between units), and ours is pretty good. Smells? Other than walking in Pioneer Square alleys (can we get public restrooms please?) Seattle smells great. I think you're thinking of Tacoma. But that's not a density issue.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on August 16, 2013 at 9:40 AM · Report this
GhostDog 13
@12. Actually I'm thinking of downtown New York City. Or Hoboken. Or Paterson. Or Newark. Places where I have lived or worked quite some time. Or pretty much any high density areas I've seen, lived in, passed through or heard of.

However I can tell that you are absolutely convinced that density is awesome and anything I point out will be "no true Scotsman"ed away. So we will have to agree to disagree.

Posted by GhostDog on August 16, 2013 at 9:56 AM · Report this
Urbanism = college educated white/Asian people willing to throw a few "affordable housing units" as crumbs to suitable immigrant families with good work ethics. What urbanism pushes out is trailer, ghetto and bario trash.

That's why this conservative supports urbanism. Keep up the good work gentrifying Seattle Matt da Engineer.
Posted by I support you! on August 16, 2013 at 11:13 AM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 15
@14 What conservatives support urbanism? Want to see a city that refuses to upzone? Go visit Palo Alto, CA. Tell me where the affordable housing is there.

Every new home we build in Seattle means one more household can afford to live here.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on August 16, 2013 at 11:24 AM · Report this
@15 sure it does Matt. Keep saying that too, it's great cover as we gentrify seattle with green, college educated white 'liberals'.
Posted by Green wash away on August 17, 2013 at 2:07 PM · Report this

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