The Mayor of Capitol Hill | Candidate Harrell weighs in on aPodments, Cal Anderson safety & a LGBTQ community center on Broadway

See also: The Mayor of Capitol Hill | Peter Steinbrueck | Ed Murray | Mike McGinn | More Election 2013 coverage
Bruce Harrell - Seattle Mayoral Candidate 2013

This is part of a series of The Mayor of Capitol Hill conversations CHS is having with candidates leading up to the August primary election. View our Election 2013 coverage here.

When it comes to the debate over the size and pace of density on Capitol Hill, City Council member and mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell treads the subject carefully. He’s mostly in favor of aPodments – the small, dorm-style apartments – and building higher on Capitol Hill.

“While I don’t like ugly units, I believe that it’s good policy to be as aggressive as possible in building affordable units,” the six-year veteran of Seattle’s City Hall said.

Harrell’s background is the sort a novelist would conjure for a homegrown Seattle politician. He was born and raised three blocks from his 23rd and Union campaign office. As a child he walked to T.T. Minor Elementary and Meany Middle schools. He was valedictorian at Garfield High School, and then went on to win a Rose Bowl as a leading defensive player for the University of Washington.

After a decade in corporate law with telecommunication company US WEST, now Qwest, Harrell went into private practice. In 2007 Harrell was elected to the Seattle City Council.

Despite his connection to the smaller, quieter Seattle past, Harrell is a proponent of change. Single-family homeowners living on the edge of high-density zones on the Hill need to be more accepting of changes in the neighborhood, he says.

“I get the NIMBY perspective. You buy a home and there’s a certain level of consistency you want in your area,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is we all live in an eco-system. And it’s not just based on the [future] cost of the house. It’s the walkability, it’s the affordability, it’s environmental sustainability.”

Harrell also said he supports the expansion of light rail through the city coupled with more parking around stations. He lamented the low ridership on current lines and said it’s likely that more people would use light rail if they could drive to the station.

“I can assure you that my grandkids will be driving cars,” he said. “While we discourage a dependence on cars, it’s a part of our American fabric.”

In addition to more accommodations for automobiles on Broadway, Harrell said he will support the effort to create a large LGBTQ center in the development surrounding the Capitol Hill light rail station. Harrell said wherever the center is located, he would lead a capital drive to make it a reality.

Harrell's fighting spirit

Harrell’s fighting spirit

As head of the City Council’s public safety committee, Harrell’s biggest impact on Seattle has been legislation related to the city’s embattled police department.

Harrell said he advocates deterrence over stricter policing when it comes to issues like the recent spate of violent crime around Cal Anderson Park. Harrell said public cleanliness and more centers for teens and homeless adults would go a long way to mitigating concerns over public safety.

“I don’t believe [homeless people] want to be a nuisance to others, but if there’s nowhere for them to go, they will sit around and make us feel unsafe,” he said.

In addition to leading the way on pushes to employ more technology in monitoring policing in the city, Harrell said he also wants Seattle to “set the precedent of what strong gun control should look like.” First, the state legislature would have to allow cities to set their own gun control ordinances. Harrell said once that happens, he wants to enact a slew of new restrictions, including giving police the authority to confiscate weapons if they suspect someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

At this point, it’s not clear how Harrell’s Council track record, pro business and development positions and lifetime connection to the Central District will play on Capitol Hill in the August primary. He lost out to State Senator Ed Murray for the endorsement of the legislative district’s Democrats where he polled a distant fourth. When it comes to battling incumbent Mike McGinn, Harrell is followed by many of the same issues that dog the city’s mayor — but it’s not all negative even though Harrell finished only fifth in an online survey CHS ran way back in February. Those who said they lived on the Hill and that they would consider voting for the candidate also were more likely to say “public safety” was important in their selection process. Apparently being chair of the city council’s public safety committee in a city where the police force is subject to a Justice Department mandated consent decree isn’t all bad.

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18 thoughts on “The Mayor of Capitol Hill | Candidate Harrell weighs in on aPodments, Cal Anderson safety & a LGBTQ community center on Broadway

  1. well the apodment thing kills him for me. I’ll put it bluntly, Bruce Harrell, you’re a fuckin idiot! You’re EXACTLY what we didn’t like about Nickels!

    • Tom – Regardless of what is clearly YOUR OWN personal opinion on Bruce Harrrell, as ignorant and misguided as it is, many of the rest of us believe that he is the BY FAR THE BEST candidate to replace the lack of leadership shown by our current Mayor.

      When you start your post out calling some a “f***ing idiot” a majority of people that have brains instantly throw out any conversation that you think you are bringing to the table. That is Bush League.

      Additionally, in regard to your Nickels statement, it is interesting to note that State Senator Murray will be bringing back the former cabinet of former Mayor Nickels, which would be more like him than any other of the candidates.

      In the future, please DO NOT refer to the rest of the Seattle population as “us.” Whatever hillbilly crowd you roll around with definitely does not represent the mind set of the rest of the city.

      Thanks

    • I have to agree with Tom about Harrell’s support of apodments killing him for me. The mixture of ugly apodments and overpriced small ugly “luxury” apartments is destroying this neighborhood.

    • I also agree with Tom. When Bruce said that single family home owners need to be more accepting of change it showed me that Bruce is out of touch with reality. It is not just single family home owners who object to apodments. I am another Capitol Hill resident who will not be voting for Bruce.

  2. “Single-family homeowners living on the edge of high-density zones on the Hill need to be more accepting of changes in the neighborhood, he says.”

    Hell hath no fury like a single-family homeowner threatened.
    (paraphrased from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Congreve, and yes, I would have guessed Shakespeare).

    Note the local acceptance of Steinbrueck’s message: http://www.capitolhillseattle.com/2013/06/steinbrueck-makes-his-case-for-mayor-with-slow-growth-base-on-capitol-hill-its-not-not-in-my-back-yard/

  3. I am glad that at least one candidate has stated a reasonably-clear position on apodments, although it’s a mixed message if he “doesn’t like ugly units” (which apodments certainly are) and at the same time approves of them. But I completely disagree with his stand and think he needs to be more specific. It is not apodments per se that people object to…it is the sleazy way developers are getting them permitted, the lack of design/environmental review and any parking, the sheer numbers of them on Capitol Hill…and, yes, their ugliness, including their bulk, height, cheap look…no parking…and the fact that they are shoe-horned into small lots.

    I try to avoid voting for or against a candidate based on just one issue, but in this case I will do so….sorry, Mr. Harrell, you just lost a possible vote. Now I hope Ed Murray and Peter Steinbrueck will weigh in on exactly how they feel about apodments. McGinn?….fugeddabout it!

    • But you can build the exact same ugly building without controversy as long as it has fewer units. This is the way the law has always worked. In other words, the review and parking requirements only kick in when you have a certain number of units. The “sleazy way” (as you put it) or loophole (as others have put it) has also been there a long time, but it misses the point. If I build a six story building, why should I have to go through an expensive review only when I have lots of apartments in that building? Meanwhile, if I want to build a big ugly house (the exact same size) then it is OK, as long as only one family lives there. The end result is more expensive (and very large) apartments and fewer small apartments. This pushes up the cost of housing for everyone who rents.

      I don’t like ugly buildings, but the Apodments I’ve seen are no different than most modern construction (including houses). Some of it is ugly, some of it isn’t. Meanwhile, parking requirements simply add to the ugliness, while increasing the cost of housing for everyone who rents. Most of the really good looking buildings were built before they required parking (adding a bunch of concrete really doesn’t improve the looks of a place). The added cost of parking influences the cost of all housing (making it more expensive for everyone who rents or is considering buying a house). This is great if you already own your house, but not so good for the folks that don’t.

      • Design/environmental review is mandatory for any new building with 8 or more units. Its purpose is an attempt (not always successful) to get a building which is less ugly than it would have been. The apodment developers are skirting this requirement by calling their 48-unit buildings “6-unit boarding houses.” If this isn’t sleazy and disingenuous, I don’t know what is. Thank goodness the City Council will be closing this loophole soon.

        There is currently no parking requirement for any new apartment building (it’s up to the developer), but I think there should be…something like one space for every two units. Parking does not make a building uglier, because it is usually underground and out-of-sight.

        • My point is that you can build the exact same building, as long as it doesn’t have too many units. In other words, if you build the exact same size building, but put in 10 units, then the developer doesn’t have to do a review. So, basically, you are not complaining that the building is too big, or too ugly, but that too many people are living in the building.

          There is nothing sleazy about what the developer is doing. That part of the law was put in exactly for this purpose. It was designed so that people could build dormitory housing like this in the university district. It was assumed that no one would like want this type of apartment in other areas, so people just ignored it. But now apartment prices have become so high that people are willing to live in smaller places. Restricting these buildings just means that prices will continue to go up. Great news for the folks that have a place — not so good for those that don’t.

          You call it sleazy when people manage to build new, more affordable homes. I call it sleazy when wealthy people restrict the options available for renters, thus making it harder on the poor. I guess we have different definitions for sleazy.

          Actually, that isn’t fair. Most of the people (and you may be one of them) are simply ignorant about rental prices in Seattle and how the free market works. The short story is that restrictions on things like Apodments increase rents. It also hurts the environment. Unfortunately, people don’t want to hear this, because it doesn’t fit into our image of ourselves as bleeding heart, liberal environmentalists. Alan Durning wrote a very nice piece about this phenomenon here: http://daily.sightline.org/2013/03/21/the-biggest-blind-spot-of-urban-greens/

          Again, these are trade-offs, but they don’t come for free. It is easy to assume that the folks hurt by eliminating Apodments are the developers. Far from it. They will just build something else somewhere else (maybe in Covington). The people who will be hurt are the folks who rent. The environment will also be hurt (since there will be more sprawl). You and I may disagree as to whether it is worth it, but you are simply fooling yourself if you believe that restricting Apodments won’t hurt renters or the environment.

  4. The opposition to the current flurry of development has nothing to do with NIMBY, or at least in the way that many people would like to frame it. It is a very specific opposition to the kind of development going on right now. Historic, central buildings with vibrant retail that is affordable to small businesses are being replaced en masse by large, boxy, bland unaffordable apartment buildings with banks and chain fast food restaurants on their ground floors. I think most of the neighborhood residents would not be opposed to density if they didn’t feel like the baby was being thrown out with the bathwater in this way.

  5. I don’t believe Mr. Harrell would be an appropriate choice as mayor either. It’s no secret with my friends that I loathe the apodments as well. To call somebody a NIMBY just because they don’t want them is pretty lousy as well. I have to wonder if that was the opinion in the 1950s when apartment buildings started springing up on Cap Hill where there were once single family homes.

    I will be supporting Ed Murray for Mayor in my world. I would be happier if he stayed in the Senate, but if he wants to do something else, I’m going to support that.

  6. I am extremely grateful to know exactly where Harrell stands on aPodments, “building higher on Capitol Hill” and a couple of other of his stances that simply do not sound well thought out and/or do not ring true. Harrell most assuredly will NOT get my vote in this “eco-system.”

  7. It’s sad that Mr Harrell is still misinformed on the micro-housing issue, repeating the developer’s “NIMBY” and “affordable” nonsense, and rationalizing with the shallow feel-good soundbite “It’s the walkability, it’s the affordability, it’s environmental sustainability.”

    As an athlete, he should know about “keeping his head in the game”…

    • How is he misinformed? Affordability is pretty simple to follow if you understand economic principles. Every restriction to development pushes up the cost of housing for folks who rent. This is the trade-off. Sometimes the trade-off is worth it, sometimes it isn’t. It is really pretty simple if you think of a hypothetical. For example, let’s assume that a developer wants to build a new apartment building. She does the math, and figures out that It only makes sense to build the building if rents are around $1,000 a month. She looks around the neighborhood and realizes that rent for a similar place is around $1050 a month. So, she builds it. The new landlord charges $1,000 a month, undercutting the competition (but still makes money). The other landlords keep rent the same, knowing that if they raise the rent, people will move.

      Now, assume that the city steps in, right before she was about to build the apartment, and says she needs to add parking. She does the math, and realizes that with the extra parking, the new landlord has to charge $1,200 a month to make a profit. So, she waits. A couple months later, the other landlords realize that competition isn’t that stiff, so raising the rents $50 should be easy. Eventually, the new building is built, but only when rent in the area is high. The end result is higher rents.

      Of course, life isn’t this simple, but this is the basic principle. It is why the cost of building new buildings influences the cost of rent in the area. This, in turn, influences the cost of rent throughout the city. If rent gets too expensive on Capitol Hill, people will move to Ballard (or, more likely further south). Simply put, restrictions increase the cost of housing for those who rent, or those who don’t currently own. There is a tradeoff here. Maybe it is worth it, maybe it isn’t. But to suggest that these sorts of restrictions don’t hurt renters (who, generally speaking can’t afford to pay more) is to ignore basic economic principles.

  8. My opinion of him just improved a lot. I’m tired of everyone who moves to these single family neighborhoods acting like they have some sort of entitlement to be the last person to move to seattle.

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