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Steinbrueck makes his case for mayor with slow-growth base on Capitol Hill — ‘It’s not Not in My Back Yard’

8918139064_2c1a9986d3_hWith strong representation from Capitol Hill’s galvanized slow-growth movement including members of the Capitol Hill Coalition and Reasonable Density Seattle, mayoral candidate and former City Council member Peter Steinbrueck came to a 19th Ave E Russian art gallery this week to share his vision of the city

“It’s not Not in My Back Yard,” candidate Steinbrueck said during the speech and Q&A session at the heart of Wednesday night’s fundraiser at the Russian Community Center. “It’s about protecting what we value.”

The appearance on Capitol Hill in front of a group of voters clearly eager to be his base comes as Steinbrueck has apparently earned a place in a developing three-way race — four if you count undecided — for the Seattle Mayor’s office.

Earlier in May, Steinbrueck finished third with just a little more than 17% of the vote behind Ed Murray and incumbent Mike Mcginn as the the 43rd District Democrats voted to endorse their State Senator for Mayor of Seattle.

chart_1 In a CHS survey earlier this year as candidates first threw their hats into the ring, Steinbrueck finished fourth. Of the respondents that both said they would vote for Steinbrueck and lived, worked or went to school on Capitol Hill, transportation issues were cited as the group’s most important factor in making a selection. Steinbrueck said Wednesday night, by the way, that he is opposed to spending city money to study light rail to Ballard as the current mayor is currently championing.

Analysis of the latest KING 5 survey shows that Steinbrueck also does well among women voters.

Wednesday night, Steinbrueck’s speech and answers remained squarely focused on development, the changing city and density.

The candidate got big laughs when he compared urban planners and champions of free-market development to the Sandanista movement in Nicaragua.

“There are some so-called urbanists… who say if you love nature, get out of it. Build up. I don’t believe that,” Steinbrueck said, calling the urbanist zealots “the densinistas.”

“I’d like to see some of the micro-units in the electeds’ neighborhoods,” Steinbrueck said.

Apodment-style microhousing has been a Capitol Hill hot button and got plenty of play Wednesday on 19th Ave E.

Steinbrueck said he wasn’t up to speed on some of the proposed changes to better regulate the controversial housing and that he was “open to microhousing conceptually.”

But the candidate said the city needs to be more selective about where it allows this kind of housing to be built.

“There are areas of the city where concentrating that many people with no parking… is a problem,” Steinbrueck said.

Steinbrueck suggested that South Lake Union might be a more appropriate home for aPodments than “your neighborhood.”

He also criticized incumbent McGinn and the City Council for caving to developers in South Lake Union.

“I don’t want to be overshadowed where I live,” North Seattle resident Steinbrueck said talking about the approved plan for what he called “the Vulcan towers.” “And I don’t want our parks to be shadowed,” he said.

In one of the few times the candidate focused on issues beyond the Department of Planning and Development, Steinbrueck produced some barbed criticism for the current administrations’s handling of SPD.

“We have low violent crime so we think everything is pretty much OK,” Steinbrueck said. “We have use of force that is institutional.” Steinbrueck also said it’s a mistake that Seattle Police recruits from “paramilitary sources” and use “paramilitary training.”

“We need a Seattle-based police academy,” Steinbrueck said before the next audience question — again related to development and zoning.

Steinbrueck also talked about the Seattle design review process and lectured the audience for a short lesson about “form based zoning,” a more proscriptive approach to creating a land use code that would create zoning districts across the city to locally define design requirements.

The academic sidebar added to an overarching Steinbrueck theme — neighborhoods are important. Maybe the most important thing in the city.

“Does anybody think there is something more important than our neighborhoods?” Steinbrueck asked the crowd seated in the gallery. “No?” There was no answer.

“Amazon?,” he laughed. The audience shouted no.

Development should enhance our “quality of life,” Steinbrueck said. — health, livelihood, our economic well being, our sense of well being, and our connection to nature.

But he was also asked about the upzoning of many of Central Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods in the late 2000s — legislation Steinbrueck oversaw as a member of the City Council until 2007 and that many in Capitol Hill’s slow-growth community groups would like to see rolled back. Are you in favor of upzoning more of the city’s single family housing neighborhoods, Steinbrueck was asked.

“That’s a loaded question. We as a city are going to evolve,” Steinbrueck shot back. “No, I don’t support that.”

“Single family housing is largely out of reach by everyday working people,” Steinbrueck said. “That’s how the city has changed since my childhood.”

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57 thoughts on “Steinbrueck makes his case for mayor with slow-growth base on Capitol Hill — ‘It’s not Not in My Back Yard’

  1. I like what Peter Steinbrueck is saying about urban development/density. But of course this is only one issue among many, so I will wait to hear what other candidates have to say. I would especially like to know how Ed Murray comes down on the microhousing controversy.

    But, for sure: “Anyone but McGinn” !!!

  2. It boggles my mind that he can acknowledge that, “Single family housing is largely out of reach by everyday working people”, and then be against densification of the city. Is his goal for Seattle to end up like Paris, where all the well-heeled and rich can afford to live in the city, while all the poor and “undesirables” are forced to live in the banlieue (aka Seatac & Tukwila)?

    It also boggles my mind that he says, “There are some so-called urbanists… who say if you love nature, get out of it. Build up. I don’t believe that.” Does that make his view, “if you love nature, go to the suburbs, cut down more forest and build your house there”?

      • you mean the wealthy, those subsidized and those willing/able to live in an apodment. Is this diversity or polarization? They’re not doing enough. There are innovative ways to keep a community. I think we can do better than the type of living an Apodment can provide. Demand real diversity.

    • Steinbrueck is NOT against “densification of the city”.

      He very clearly states however that density is not the only measure of success. That as we grow we need to ensure quality of life is maintained. He is also fond of saying “density is a dumb word” because it merely is a demographer’s term for population per square mile, and tells one nothing about what the built environment is like.

      Steinbrueck repeatedly states that we need to maintain a functioning natural element here (trees, permeable surfaces, public open space) to maintain the high quality of life we have as well as protect the Puget Sound, rather than the mere semblance of nature (green walls, concrete everywhere) which is the direction we are headed today.

      The region has growth boundaries, and it is up to outlying municipalities and the County to maintain these. It is our job here to add people to the city and keep Seattle a great place, affordable to all.

      Steinbrueck acutely understands that. There was nothing that he said that evening that indicates he doesn’t support the growth targets set for Seattle. It was all about how we do it without destroying our diverse neighborhoods.

    • They question is where to put the density. Do you tear down Seattle’s beautiful neighborhoods and replace them with ugly 6-8 floor buildings? Downtown and SLU have acres of parking lots and ugly industrial buildings. Tear them down, not our neighborhoods. Put the density where it belongs. What irks me the most is Seattle became so popular that now people such as yourself move here and then become active in trying to destroy what made Seattle beautiful. Those of us from here are sick of it and won’t stand for having our city ruined by outsiders. If you don’t like Seattle as it is go the heck back to whatever **** you moved here from.

      • Translation: “Not In My Backyard!”

        So is everyone who disagrees with you definitely an “outsider” who isn’t “from here?”

      • Um… I’m a fifty year old Seattle native. I grew up on Capitol Hill near Volunteer Park.
        You want to knwo where to put increased density? Within the Seattle city limits, that’s where. On Capitol Hill. In Maple Leaf. In Rainier Valley. Everywhere.
        What types of housing? Apodments. Town Houses. Single family homes on smaller lots. Regular apartments. Every type of housing.
        Some of us actually like living in the city. We want to walk to a local business district. We want light rail and subways connecting every neighborhood. We want a vibrant street life.
        This does not ruin the city.
        Cities change. Populations grow and shrink. But cities remain. They will not exist in stasis as you and your NIMBY cohorts demand.
        So in closing, your attitude is what is destroying Seattle, not Apodments or increased density. If you really want to see the problem, look in the mirror. You’re unwittingly tryling to suffocate the city you pretend to love.

      • Great post, worf. Nothing lasts forever, and Seattle is a city in flux. Most of the new apartments I’ve seen going up in Seattle have been on parking lots, old one-story commercial properties, or replacing smaller, low quality houses. It is unfortunate that some beautiful old homes have been lost, but these are exceptions rather than the rule.

      • “having our city ruined by outsiders”
        I’m pretty sure the only people allowed to make that claim are Native Americans.

  3. If steinbruek is elected I’ll probably leave seattle. I’ll go to another city or even one of our suburbs that is welcoming dense growth.

    • Yes. Welcome density – I do. But don’t bungle it! That’s what is happening here.

      An analogy: When you sue a Doctor for malpractice . . are you saying “No” to medicine/health care.

      Criticizing the way development is being handled is not NIMBY for all of us . . and it’s not saying no to density.

  4. Peter Steinbrueck comes across as a thoughtful, interesting potentially serious challenger, to the incumbent mayor—whom I didn’t vote for the first time around and wouldn’t do so again, but he might be part of the solutiions of the past when it comes time to promote workable solutions for the future, in a Seattle which is changed, will change even more. There needs to be a creative, workable, dynamic to the nature of in-city housing which is out of the box; Seattle has a younger, growing, educated population of many singles and young families (yes, there are young children in the downtown area) who aren’t that interested in leaving for the suburbs if a lifestyle and adequate, affordable housing can be created to keep them in the city. I don’t know if Mr. Steinbreuck fits that standard for the second decade of the 21St Century?

  5. The author of this article is wrong about what the Mayor is proposing to Ballard.

    The Mayor is proposing a streetcar to Ballard, not light rail.

    The distinction is a very, very important one. A streetcar, by their very nature of sharing their right of way with cars, is slow, and actually worse that “trackless trolleys”, or buses. Buses can go around things when there are roadway obstructions. Streetcars cannot. Streetcars have about as many stops as a bus does. Light rail, on the other hand, usually has a dedicated right of way, by virtue of grade separation or a corridor separated from car traffic. More people can be carried on a light rail train set because the length of the cars attached is not limited to a city street. Streetcars travel between 15-25 mph, while the average light rail car travels at 40-60 mph. For an articulate definition of these differences, check out the websites of transit railcar manufacturers around the world.

    Our Mayor has no idea of what rapid transit is. If he did, he would not be characterizing streetcars as “rapid transit”. We desparately need rapid transit in this city, if the majority wants an alternative to cars. If there’s a mandate for cars, then we should increase the throughput of the major thoroughfares around the city PDQ.

    • As the director of Seattle Subway, I can tell you that the mayor has been extremely supportive of grade separated rail *as well as* streetcar. He’s even donated to us. :)

      The study work from Downtown to Ballard is studying two things independently – high capacity, probably underground, transit, and streetcar. They serve different needs and different places. The streetcar part is to extend what we have. The high capacity transit part would serve different neighborhoods, like Uptown, Belltown, and Queen Anne. Don’t think we’re picking between the two – just like we’ll build streetcar between UW and SLU, we’ll have Link from downtown to UW.

      • If you honestly think that this city is ever going to build BOTH a slow surface train AND truly fast rapid transit to northwest Seattle (as opposed to just throwing its weight behind the pointless streetcar non-solution and then saying “hey, it’s on rails, isn’t life complete now?”), then Ben quite literally has a bridge he’d like to sell you.

        Real progress or GTFO.

  6. Agreed – if it talks like a NIMBY, walks like a NIMBY, then its a NIMBY. What Steinbreuck is articulating is precisely NIMBYism – he prioritizes single family zoning over density (that’s what his code words about “neighborhoods” being the priority and ad hominem attacks about “densinistas” means. Looks at his statements about microhousing – its fine, as long as its not in whatever community he happens to be talking in front of – put in South Lake Union he says, when talking in front of Capitol Hill folks.

    I’ve got news for Steinbreuck – without the Amazons of the world, Seattle would be an overgrown fishing village. Tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft are the General Motors of the 21st century – they are providing 1,000s of jobs for Seattle residents, plus the spillover economic effects leveraged by having those good paying jobs in Seattle. (as opposed to out in Redmond)

    This is the same guy that says we shouldn’t have a stadium in SoDo because of the potentially negative effect it could have on industrial jobs. So which is it – either job growth is important or its not. You can’t have it both ways.

    And yes, Mr. Steinbreuck, supporting density in Seattle so greenfields in the exurbs aren’t plowed under IS the environmentally responsible policy.

    Finally, everything you need to know about Steinbreuck is that he has aligned himself with groups like “Reasonable” Density Seattle – which are nothing if not a pure NIMBY group, based on the policies they are pushing.

    • You’ve used your fishing village analogy in other posts a little too much. It underscores the fact that you’re out in left field with the issues. Disagree, if you will, with the issues being discussed NOT with the words you put into other people’s mouth.

  7. The “rich” people in the single family neighborhoods (I’m not sure any neighborhood in Seattle is truly single family anymore) pay a lot of taxes to allow silly tax abatement scams from the city council for apodments.

    • Nobody in Seattle pays a lot of taxes. Property taxes here are absurdly low, and even the truly wealthy pay an incredibly small amount.

      Also, is there any kind of inherent benefit to having single-family neighborhoods? Isn’t that what suburbs are for?

  8. Steinbrueck either doesn’t get it, or is making a very cynical political move. There is growth in demand for Capitol Hill housing. Either we allow density (which is more eco-friendly) and let the neighborhood grow, or we don’t, and rents will accelerate because there’s a supply shortage. Saying no to density is saying no to low- and middle-income renters, and forcing suburban sprawl.

    Who’s interests is he representing? Just look at that picture- older residents who are more likely to be wealthy and own their own property. This is basically the definition of NIMBYism.

    • Look at pictures of most community meetings. They tend to be in the age bracket you mentioned. Maybe it shows who’s more apt to attend these kinds of meetings rather than anything that is specific to the development issue.

    • I think Steinbrueck is trying to represent Seattle-ites who favor density and understand what it will achieve for low/middle income renters and hindering suburban sprawl.
      I think he is trying to represent Seattle-ites who want more forethought employed in developing long range plans for neighborhood growth.
      I think he’s trying to represent Seattle-ites who fear we will wake up in a couple of years and wish we had truly “planned” for growth rather thank engage in the free for all we are seeing.

    • Oscar, if you read this post, you would know that Mr. Steinbreuck is NOT against increased density…he only wants it to be done with more thought, with the aim of preserving our neighborhood as much as possible.

      I’m REALLY tired of people categorically stating that he or she is “anti-density,” when they are not.

  9. Who cares if he’s “Nimby” or not? I hate all the over development on the Hill. I’m not a home owner. I’m a renter, late 50s, have no view. I have no money, so will never own a home. I hate the apodments because they dump too many people in one place, meaning more noise, more trash, more crime. The tall buildings make the place feel less “neighborhoody.” I liked Peter when I met him @ the Croc, and he’s got my vote. “Anyone but McGinn.”

  10. I’m sick of the people crying “NIMBY” whenever anyone proposes any regulations to manage growth in a reasonable manner. There needs to be some regulation in order to maintain Capitol Hill as a great place to live. I like what I’ve heard from Steinbrueck. As an architect, he’s been trained to think about what makes places livable, and I’m hoping that he will be able to maintain the growth of Capitol Hill and Seattle, while sustaining them as desirable homes. McGinn won’t get my vote. Steinbrueck has potential.

    • As soon as Peter proposes actual solutions you will have a point. But right now he is on a complaining tour.

  11. Typical.
    You blow in and out, get some shots and quotes, and leave.
    No one, including this blog, seems interested in parsing and nuance.

    • Justin (CHS editor) was there for most of the meeting. He left briefly but returned and stayed till the end of Peter’s presentation and the Q & A.

      The photographer was not there the whole time: he was easily identified as the youngest man in the room. Oh, and he had a big camera.

  12. The comments about the “wealthy” are hilarious.
    There is a transfer of wealth takings place, from folks who bought homes, largely quite some time ago, to big money. From teachers and Boeing workers, to large financial intents.

  13. Seattle is known for its political process- everything takes a long time to ever complete. And this guy wants to add MORE process? He thinks we need to think about it for MORE years before we get any change? Seattle is slow to change and get anything done, and people wonder why. Guys like this are the reason.
    We need more density already. There is already a shortage of housing on Capitol Hill. How is waiting even longer going to help the situation?
    The longer you do something that’s the same for years on end (such as living in the same neighborhood), the more resistant you are to change. Things change! Please accept it and allow the growth that’s needed. Capitol Hill will never be what it was in the past. Whether it’s a slow growth or a fast growth, the neighborhood will be different than what these NIMBYs want. They will never be satisfied, I don’t know why anyone takes their opinions seriously.

    • No attention to process is penny-wise and pound foolish. Unless you are more comfortable letting developers decide the neihborhoods fate. Their experience is in construction – not urban planning.

    • Once again – those who would like some semblance of planning the coming growth of the neighborhood are “resistant to change” . And, thanks for the insight “things change!”. Forgive me but, Duh!. We are all aware that the city/neighborhood is changing and very few are clinging to the past. I admitt your statement are a convenient put down, but in the end, it’s just more emotional diatribe with no substance.
      Really, guest, come on. Things change, and when they do, things won’t be the same. Thanks.
      Once again -those who live here who want forethought are NIMBY. And their opinion is taken seriously by more than you think(and I’m not a homeowner or clinging to the past). On average, I find their arguments to have more content than name calling.
      They did help close the loop-hole that allowed developers to avoid environmental impact studies – but oops! that’s not true concern. That’s just a bunch of people who need your advice , “things change!”

    • “The longer you do something that’s the same for years on end (such as living in the same neighborhood), the more resistant you are to change. Things change!”

      Things do change. Unfortunately, one of those things is competition for living space increases as growth increases. It happens every time and every where you go – no amount of construction or urban planning can eradicate it. It can soften the blow but it can’t change it.

      Guest? . . . .are you a little resistant to change?

  14. Yes, things change. But change can be done in a thoughtful, intentional manner that will be a benefit to those living here in the future, or it can be done in a random, haphazard, anarchic fashion, and our neighborhoods will turn into sh*t. Some regulation is a good thing.

  15. If Steinbrueck is elected it will only make sfh owners like me RICHER, and I dont need his help to make my money. Everyone else will pay more for the “quality of life” premium to just put a roof over their heads. It was also sad that not too long along, proposals to build taller apartment buildings along the light rail in south seattle was shot down. I am afraid that if we slow down housing growth, Seattle will become a wealthy exclusive fishing village like Newport.

  16. IMHO, Steinbrueck is actively causing the city he says he wants to avoid. In the face of large demand for city housing, his instinct seems to be to kneecap development from both ends; by opposing the upzoning of SFH areas, he will encase 3/4 of Seattle in amber as a playground for an ever more exclusive set of residents. By opposing more high-rise development in the 25% of remaining land that is multi-family, he will intensify competition for fewer multifamily properties. The result? Higher prices for all, and an exclusionary, gated city of 650,000 in perpetuity.

    I’m very sympathetic to his sentiments for green space and against the sort of thoughtless concrete jungles that are too easily built. If he had a plausible alternative to Skyscraper City — perhaps a Parisian vision of modest upzones everywhere, grade-separated rail, and robust parks — he could definitely win my vote. But as a 30-year old young professional looking to buy a home and raise a family with my wife on less than $100k/year, he has nothing to offer me but an expedited exile to the suburbs.

    • Zach. Extremely succinct and well said. I am in the exact same boat as you and I feel the same frustration with Steinbrueck as you. I think it says something about the rot of the American economy and culture that we have to deal with so many sons of privilege occupying power positions.

    • One of the stranger FUD tactics I see from opponents of SFH upzoning is that it will result in “ugly 6-8 floor buildings” citywide. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that. What “densinistas” want is a more diverse housing typology in our SFH areas– something that encompasses a mixture of older single-family bungalows with townhomes (not the ones you see littered around South King County, mind you) and apartment buildings closer to commercial areas.

      There are virtually two types of housing in Seattle now: single-family homes and apartments. To work our way into a false choice where these are the only two options is preposterous, and that is exactly what people like Steinbrueck are proposing.

  17. I can’t get over his overly entitled attitude, the successor to the Steinbrueck throne, the self-titled holder of the “soul of the market,” the crown prince.

  18. I’m new to this blog – and frankly everyone sounds entitled. Homeowners are going to have to accept that things are changing and they can not control every variable of growth. It will not all be to their liking. It won’t be the same neighborhood they bought into. The world does not owe them the guarantee that it will stay the same.

    Those for density. Seems like you need to accept that things are changing and you can not control every variable of growth. Some of us will get priced out regardless of how much density we create. The world does not owe anybody the guarantee to live in place they can no longer afford.

    The increase in population is going to change the neighborhood for everyone. The NIMBYs sound no more entitled to me that the “densinista’s”(sp?).

    I would like to hear more about the “Parisian” model (stated above) that met some success in integrating low,middle and upper income citizens.

    • I agree completely with your statement that the world does not owe you a place to live in an area you can’t afford. With that entitlement attitude, low income people should be allowed to live in Broadmoor or The Highlands. Get real. If you can’t afford a certain neighborhood, either make more money or live in an area you can afford.

  19. I don’t live on Capitol Hill but I sure know Capitol Hill is getting screwed.
    Huge tax subsidies enable the apartments to be a no-brainer for developers. They enjoy a 12 year tax holiday. This tax giveaway policy is telling developers build as many as you can while the policy is still in place. They are built to the absolute lowest construction qualities but we will be stuck with the buildings for the next 50-100 years. Apodments get a complete tax holiday for 12 years and we’re stuck with the crap buildings, until they rot in place and are torn down. Apodments are mdern substandard tenement housing.

    Construction quality is the main complaint with most new development on Capitol Hill, and elsewhere in the city. Most all developments are built out of wood and will be rotting within 10 years, costing millions and millions in repairs, Plus disrupting the victom neighborhoods while the rotted wood is rebuilt, only to restore the same poor quality building. The Current design / build methodology is absolutely substandard and unlivable. Poor design only adds to the poor construction quality. This type of building is known in the development world is building for the newlywed and nearly dead, cheap crap for young married couples / students / retired individuals. But because of it’s prime location in Seattle’s best neighborhoods they can charge the absolute premium rents to live in the junk buildings. There are very few cities in the nation that would allow this poor construction quality within the city area. If you put a green roof on a crap building it is still a crap building. The green labels are a joke. The current mayor has put a happy green face on this poor unsustainable construction. The Mayor has never seen a project he didn’t like as long as it brings him campaign support. McGinn is the accidental mayor and Seattle got what we deserved. McGinn is a political neophyte and Is viewed by developers like you just fell off the turnip truck. It is well-known that McGinn can be made to believe almost anything as long as it appears to be some kind of “green” element to it. McGinn and the DPD are pushing through so-called pilot programs with a green label that are just an excuse for building higher with less parking and common areas. Also known as rampant development. Steinbrueck looks like the best candidate as far as Urban Planning oversight. The campaign is young and we have a lot more to hear.

    After four years of proof one thing is for sure McGinn IS the problem.

  20. I hear a lot of candidates speaking to neighborhood groups and addressing concerns of these folks. From my experience, these are primarily homeowners, not necessarily representing the entire community or neighborhood where they live. Where is the voice for the renters in our city? Those of us who need inexpensive rental housing or apartments? Where are the candidate forums for our concerns?

    • Stating the obvious: Renters are just as welcome at the community/candidate events as anyone else. Almost always there is a public comment or question period, where you can voice your opinions.

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