If you think Seattle’s next mayor should be one who defiantly waves the banner of bold policy initiatives to push the envelope on urban issues against the restrained thinking of Capitol Hill neighborhood activists and city planners, then Peter Steinbrueck ain’t your candidate. What Steinbrueck does bring to the race is a careful consideration of urban development and the credentials to back it.
“For those who say I’m anti-development, it doesn’t bear out.” Steinbrueck told CHS inside his newly opened Central District campaign headquarters. “I get dinged because my opponents want to redefine me and who I am.”
Steinbrueck is a career architect and urban planner who recently left a consulting job with the Port of Seattle and spent 2010 at Harvard University studying urban design. From his early city activism, to his efforts to cap downtown building height in the 1980s, to his stint as a City Council member (1997-2007) and Council president, Steinbrueck is probably the most knowledgeable candidate on the lasting impact of the city’s boom years.
Steinbrueck is also the most technocratic candidate, which hasn’t benefited his image in the race (see also his much discussed Read N’ Greet performance) and could be a major roadblock to courting voters in central Seattle.
Steinbrueck is Seattle through and through. As the son of famed Space Needle designer and Pike Place Market savior Victor Steinbrueck, Peter’s call to Seattle civic duty runs deep. He also has a connection to the Hill’s auto row era — his grandfather once owned an auto shop on Olive Way. But those roots have led some to charge that Steinbrueck looks more to Seattle’s past than its future.
When it comes to Steinbrueck’s vision for density and development in central Seattle, his position is difficult to nail down. Steinbrueck said it’s not because he lacks a vision, it’s just more nuanced, and therefore more difficult to translate in a campaign.
He led the effort to rezone South Lake Union to encourage more development and density in his time on the Council. But now he says the “one giant office park” developed too much luxury housing and not enough green space. The lesson for Steinbrueck: building up, especially in desirable central Seattle, only works against affordability — the city has to move out.
Rather than spending the city’s time and resources on accommodating more density in central Seattle, Steinbrueck is more interested in finding ways to encourage density in the city’s outlying areas.
“If you exclude single family homes on Capitol Hill, there’s not a huge potential for massive growth,” he said.
CHS reported on the candidate’s fundraising appearance before a crowd of supporters on Capitol Hill in June that included many members of slow-growth groups like Sustainable Seattle and the Capitol Hill Coalition.
He defends his careful approach to density by waxing passionately about Seattle neighborhoods.
“It is a defense of our neighborhoods, but a defense of where our life and spirit is found,” he said. “From that standpoint, I don’t think a neighborhood is a blank slate where anything goes in the name of density and the environment. I think that’s bullshit.”
But despite his reserved outlook on density, Steinbrueck had until recently made his home in a small, urban space. After he and his wife separated and later divorced, Steinbrueck said he moved into a 350 square foot apartment in First Hill.
“I’ve really come to appreciate living small and living in smaller confines and getting rid of a lot of junk one accumulates over one’s life,” he said of his apartment that was within walking distance of Pike/Pine. “It really grew on me, I didn’t want to leave,”
During the campaign, Steinbrueck has also taken a drastically different route on transportation. Where Mayor Mike McGinn and Sen. Ed Murray continue to argue who’s thinking further beyond current light rail plans, Steinbrueck has chosen to focus on safety.
While he said he supports Sound Transit’s long term planning efforts, including a third ballot initiative to boost light rail, he said bicycle and pedestrian safety should be top investment priorities.
“The highest priority for me is pedestrian and bicycle safety, because those are the most vulnerable on the street and because we lose 10 to 15 people a year in pedestrian-vehicular conflict,” he said. “I’m a little more pragmatic about this, and I think a lot of (Sound Transit 3) is a huge distraction to the problems of today.”
In a CHS online poll earlier this year, Steinbrueck placed fourth among the candidates. His Capitol Hill supporters were more likely to place importance of fiscal responsibility and less likely to be concerned with nightlife issues than other Capitol Hill respondents in the poll.
In Capitol Hill, where the cauldron of density, transportation, and history bubbles hot, Steinbrueck tells CHS he is the candidate that is most poised to resolve inevitable conflicts.
“I have a much more advanced understanding of doing development right,” he said. “That’s why I have chosen to make neighborhoods central to my campaign.”