Mike O’Brien For Seattle City Council Position 8

For me, this is the easiest choice out of all the races.  Among the reasons:  Mike O’Brien has been consistent in his support for an integrated surface/transit solution as opposed to the deep bore tunnel.

The list of supporters for O’Brien’s fundraiser includes many of the City’s best thinkers and leaders on urban environmental issues.  These are people whose understanding of sustainability is both deep and wide, and who respect the interdependencies that span the spectrum from neighborhood to global scales.  And they can see that Mike O’Brien gets it.

(To digress, another reason folks may want to support O’Brien is that one of his leading challengers in the race is neighborhood activist David Miller.   To get an understanding of Miller’s decidedly un-hugeasscity perspective, check out my letter to the  “Livable Seattle Movement,” a organization that Miller co-founded.  Given the intellectual sloppiness in the publications authored by Miller’s group, it’s a real hoot to see him claim on his web site that he would “base decisions on real data.”  Equally hilarious is Miller’s utterly meaningless pet term “intra-urban sprawl.”  All of this would best be a topic for another post, but for now perhaps some of you commenters could help me out here and explain why I would be wrong to conclude that the gestalt of Miller is antidensity NIMBYism thinly veiled in Seattle old-guard neighborhood populism?)

24 Responses to “Mike O’Brien For Seattle City Council Position 8”

  1. F Buncher

    That is a smart and powerful group of supporters for O’Brien.

    I thought Denis Hayes endorsed David Miller. Perhaps Denis has now seen through to the anti-environmental core of David Miller and he now only supports O’Brien.

    Thank you for posting this, Dan!

  2. JoshMahar

    Oh I’ll take you up on that one Dan!

    First off I want to say that I totally support O’Brien. He’s got great charisma, a smart approach to environmentalism, and proven experience. (I will admit though I saw him drive to the Great City Candidate Potluck in an SUV)

    But I don’t think Miller is all bad. Perhaps I have just seen the new, candidate-running Miller but from what I have read and listened to he seems fairly well balanced. His main project was the Waldo Woods fight which seemed pretty NIMBY but I think it was smart. While they limited one developer from destroying the area they are currently looking for other developers to build multi-family housing while limiting the impacts on the woods and the historic structure.

    I also kind of like his term intra-urban sprawl. I think its useful in the sense that its all about looking at a neighborhood and making sure its amenities stack up to its density. The neighborhood plans, a contract between residents to accept more density in return for area improvements, have largely gone ignored even though plenty of density has filled these areas. (Spruce Park’s lack of any N-S transit is a prime example of this).

    This is a similar argument to the 3x housing capacity that the Livable Seattle Movement kept harping on. If you plan for a certain amount of people in an area but build homes for substantially more people then that then you run the risk of not having a sufficient infrastructure for everyone (which can take a long time to improve).

    This is not to say that the LSM aren’t just anti-density. You letter to them was spot on. But you will notice that David Miller’s name cannot be found on their website.

    Perhaps in his heart David Miller loves his SFH neighborhood and doesn’t want to see things change. But I think he does understand the necessity of density and the growing public interest in creating greener, denser communities. I just think Miller is probably wary while O’Brien is optimistic.

  3. David Miller

    Dan —

    A clarification. There are two documents on the LSM web site. The one I had something to do with was the brief on the King County Buildable Lands report. The other one on the MFU, which you spent the bulk of that post working over, was written by someone else. The working style of the group was difficult given the broad variety of viewpoints, which is why you don’t see my name there any longer. To call it “Miller’s group” is an exaggeration.

    It’s pretty fashionable to call me a NIMBY because I worked with hundreds of people across Seattle (including nationally recognized environmental and historic preservation groups) to try and modify an environmentally unsound development at the Waldo Hospital site. Density without concurrency, which is our #1 barrier to the acceptance of more density in Seattle, is always problematic for neighborhoods but that wasn’t the big issue with Waldo.

    The big issue was the likely loss of 90% of a mature urban tree grove and a demolition plan with no controls for tons of toxic lead dust that would have spread across a reservoir, little league ballfields, three school bus stops, and a bunch of homes with kids and elderly people who are most susceptible to toxic lead dust.

    Were we right or wrong on this? Let’s look at four facts from sources outside us or the developers:

    1. King County recognized the urban grove as environmentally valuable and worth conservation. We secured access to a King County Conservation Futures $300,000 matching grant to help preserve it. If we were way off base as to the environmental value of the grove, it never would have earned the conservation grant from King County.

    2. The Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution that directed DPD to create stronger protections for tree groves so the next Waldo Woods could be protected. DPD has taken the first step on this, rewriting an outdated Director’s Rule to include tree groves under the definition of “exceptional.”

    3. The King County Superior Court ruling said we were right about the developer and the city improperly controlling for toxic lead dust under SEPA.

    4. The site will see development under new owners, and we are very excited about the new plans and working with the new owners to accelerate the permitting process.

    You and I both agree our urban centers and villages need to be more dense. We both agree to make that happen we need to do upzones. We both agree we need to rethink what we do in the transitional lowrise zones. We both agree mother-in-law apartments are a fine way to get more people in our SF areas. We even agree about TOD, though I suspect we disagree about whether the state or neighborhoods get to decide precisely where the density will go and what form it will take.

    Our main difference (and my main difference with Mike, incidentally) is I think we need to bend over backwards to put density in our urban villages BEFORE we start considering taking out the urban tree canopy and permeable surfaces present in our SF neighborhoods. The KC Buildable Lands Report shows we’re well zoned to handle 2020 capacity so it is not like there is a crisis level of lack of zoning.

    We also differ in that I do not believe density is automatically affordable or automatically environmentally sound. Council has to work hard to create land use rules AND INCENTIVES to make the relationship between density and affordability/green happen more often. One reason why green developers like the award-winning Linda Pruitt are supporting my campaign is they know creating those incentives and rules is a priority for me.

    As far as “intra-urban sprawl” goes, I find it very useful to help people visualize what a mess Seattle would be if we don’t concentrate our density. If we cannot afford decent transit service now, we certainly won’t be able to afford it if we have to run it into every nook and cranny of the city to serve uncontrolled density mushrooms. Let’s densify the current centers and get them well served with transit before we start creating a bunch more of them.

    And Denis Hayes, for the record, is still a big supporter of my campaign. He believes my mix of environmental ethic and business creation experience will bring a needed voice to Council. He joins a great many other environmental and green business leaders in supporting my campaign.

  4. J David

    David – If the frantic pace at which you respond to critics online (and the words per blog comment) are at all correlated with your ability to govern, you’ve got my vote. That being said, I have a small quibble with your short essay above. Stating that Seattle is zoned to meet our 2020 population goals is not factually wrong, but it is incomplete (and disingenuous in its implication). So let me complete your thought for you: if we tear down all existing buildings that do not fit the envelope to which their zoned, then we would have more than enough building capacity. So, all you preservationists that want to save your Pike Pine corridor? David Miller would prefer that you tear this down and build up to where the zoning allows. Hear that Murray Franklin? You’ve got an ally in David Miller – as long as you preserve our single family neighborhoods, please do what you need to in our urban centers and corridors. If we want to preserve much of our building heritage and build up where it makes sense, your argument falls flat on its face.

    David, I can’t tell if you’re a NIMBY or not, but the time you take to refute the claims out there makes me think the charge has struck a chord (methinks the lady doth protest too much). Regardless, please just drop the zoning capacity argument. It’s misleading and shows a complete lack of understanding about how development works.

  5. TWB

    I won’t disagree with you that O’Brien has some good folks listed above supporting him, but they are all of one color – very green. And honestly, I am too. However, this is one of Mike’s weaknesses, he is all green all the time. Look at how much he has focused on the tunnel lately – very idealistic and not at all appreciative of the work that went into the compromise from all three governments and stakeholders.

    Mike is great at his role in the Sierra Club. He can push the envelope in that direction, and that is needed and appreciated. However, on City Council, we need people who can step back from themselves and pull in various opinions, facts, and ideas. I just don’t think O’Brien is open to others’ perspectives enough to objectively govern for all the interests of Seattle’s diverse residents.

    I’m supporting David Miller because he spans the diverse range of interests in Seattle, and he is a data cruncher with a sharp mind. He has support from key environmentalists, neighborhood leaders, labor, and the business community. He goes to seemingly every neighborhood event, engages with constituents from all parts of the city, and actively listens to their concerns and ideas on how to improve our city.

    And another note on David – he really does do the research, take the time, and write these responses himself. That is the type of Councilmember you will get if you join me in supporting him. I worked with he and his wife on the Parks and Green Spaces Levy, work in the environmental nonprofit community, and am an active bike commuter. I know David, and he has my vote.

  6. Rushed Post

    J David is right. The assumption that we have enough zoning capacity for 2020 assumes that we’ll tear down a lot of buildings that are under-built-to-zoning and replace them with something built to maximum zoning capacity.

    All of which doesn’t matter either way to a developer can’t make it pencil as a woodframe at 7 stories or a steel frame anything higher… It won’t matter to them what the zoning is… until the rents get so high (goodbye affordability) that it makes sense to build anything.

  7. David Miller

    @4 raises a good point. It is worth noting the KCBLR adjusts their analysis for zoning capacity to account for this issue. What that adjustment is and how accurate it reflects what can really happen on the ground is something any policy advocate has to examine.

    Of course we have to tear down to build higher. There aren’t a lot of blank lots in the city. Where the KCBLR will run into problems is if it counts a brand new 2-story building in a six-story zone as available for 4 more stories tomorrow. It doesn’t, but anyone using it to make a decision has to understand that limitation.

    The difference between the theory of KCBLR and reality on the ground — and the need to reasonably preserve heritage buildings — is why I favor many ideas that increase density including upzones in urban centers, a real cottage housing program, mother-in-law apartments, TOD, and etc.

    I am sensitive to the NIMBY tag because there are way too many people like me who are pro-density and pro-environment who have been branded with the tag simply because we’ve said, “Hey, wait a minute” to a specific development or the idea that density is inherently green and affordable. There are Lesser Seattle people out there, but the vast majority of neighborhood people I have met — and I’ve met thousands both before and during the campaign — are accepting of density done right.

  8. Chris


    You sound a bit like a NIMBY, but I guess I’m willing to consider giving you the benefit of the doubt.

    But the bigger issue is that you are running against Mike O’Brien who is such a great environmental leader. And Mike practices what he preaches — they guy bikes and uses transit almost all the time. I really think he would provide the kind of leadership we need on the council.


  9. dan bertolet

    Thanks for the thoughtful replies David. But while I have no problem agreeing with you that toxic lead is bad for people, I suspect we disagree on much more than you seem to want others to believe. Watch for a new post on this soon, and I look forward to the dialogue.

  10. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    You’ve probably all heard this already, but a private school just closed on Waldo Woods for $3.425m. Yes, we still need more housing density in Seattle but the location was not ideal for high density (the developer was originally going to build townhomes). Camp Fire USA gets its money and Maple Leaf gets a school (and the trees), so I’d call it a happy ending.

  11. Beal

    JDF: are townhomes “high density”? really? yes, saving the trees and getting the school all sound like a win-win, but come on now, let’s not suggest that townhomes were going to bring an inappropriate level of density to the ‘hood.

  12. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    Beal, I guess I was unclear. Townhomes are not in my view “high density” and that’s one reason I think having the site as a private school is a win.

    I only mentioned high density because it might have been a different story if this site was, say, right next to a future Link station (it’s not) and if the developer was going to build an awesome building (they weren’t).

  13. Max

    Thank god I don’t get my cues for whom to vote for from Huge ass city..

    What a joke

  14. HAC fan club

    Max @ 13: But, you take the time to read it and to comment.

    I bet you secretly agree with all of it and that you will find yourself voting for O’Brien.

    And, like all of us loyal fans, I bet you adore Dan and all his wisdom and humor.

  15. Max

    Sometimes he’s better than other times.

  16. dan bertolet

    Hey there Max, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself? You seem like a fascinating guy with lots of highly sophisticated opinions. Your mail server is at microsoft.com, is that where you work? A real brain trust, so I hear.

  17. Max

    I work at microsoft, but what does that matter to you? Mind your own business.

    First, now you’re lying. Comment thing clearly says will not be published. If you go around exposing the mail addresses and IP addresses of people who say things you don’t like, that says a hell of a lot more about you than you’re going to learn from me. Get off your high horse once in a while.

    Second, if you really give a shit, I’m a 33 year old half black/half jewish man who has lived in the CD my entire life. I went to Seattle U for undergrad (Architecture) and the UW for a masters in urban planning, and yes, now I work at Microsoft.

    Enough information for you Dan?

  18. Max

    Moralizing asside. I do like HAC. I just don’t like posts about how:

    1) Black people should be cherished and their culture should be saved and how quaint and beautiful it is. But they smoke crack and live in gangs and should get the hell out of the inner city neighborhood me and others like me are invading.

    2) You should vote for some random politician or another because he “gets” environmentalism/density/whatever.

    3) We’re all doomed!

    The rest of the posts are brilliant.

  19. Max

    I may be an angry person, but Dan Bertolet is prejudiced, and his blog reflects it.

  20. I Skim The Seattle Times And Crosscut So You Don’t Have To | hugeasscity

    […] just to prove that I’m not biased, I also didn’t read Mike O’Brien’s Crosscut piece on what’s wrong with the deep-bore tunnel even though I got about 72 facebook […]

  21. A Criminally Unfair, One-Sided, Amateur Blog-Style Q&A With (Or Without) David Miller | hugeasscity

    […] said that “we need to do upzones.”  Please give some examples of specific locations in […]

  22. Publicola » Blog Archive » Check out Hugeasscity’s Q&A With David Miller

    […] You said that “we need to do upzones.”  Please give some examples of specific locations in Seattle that […]

  23. MJH

    I question why O’Brien is still in the race after having stated to an endorsement panel that I will not name, that he would bow out of the race if “a person of color” were to enter. Enter Bobby Forch. First, why would anyone say that? Second, why would anyone say it, and then not do it. Makes me wonder what else he is willing to say, but not willing to do.

  24. www.promotioncodes.org.uk


    Mike O’Brien For Seattle City Council Position 8 | hugeasscity…

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