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The Mayor of Capitol Hill | Steinbrueck restrained on density, big on Seattle

See also: The Mayor of Capitol Hill | Bruce Harrell | Ed Murray | Mike McGinnMore Election 2013 coverage

IMG_5640If 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.”

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36 thoughts on “The Mayor of Capitol Hill | Steinbrueck restrained on density, big on Seattle

  1. Yesterday, while driving around Capitol Hill, I was struck by the huge amount of development going on…much of our neighborhood is like one big construction zone, with hardly any block not affected by the noise, clutter, traffic disruption, dirt, etc….this will be worth it in the long run, but at the moment we are paying the price. I can hardly wait for all these projects to get completed.

    Peter Steinbrueck is quite obviously the most qualified candidate as far as urban planning and smart development. His is a middle-ground approach to density/development/affordability, and I like what he says. If he is our next Mayor, development will proceed, but it will be done in a more modest and balanced way.

    But, I still want to emphasize: “ABM!!” (Anyone But McGinn).

  2. At the recent mixer hosted by the GSBA in downtown, Steinbrueck was the candidate who delivered the most canned answers of the seven candidates present. His answers were very packaged, delivered in such a rush you had a hard time following him, and he couldn’t even stay for the duration of the event. He did not leave a good impression.

    The other candidates were not much better, I’ll add. Even though Ed Murray received the Seattle Times endorsement, he didn’t come across any more convincing as a viable candidate than the others. Some public speaking courses and debating skills would go a long way to aid these folks in their campaigning. That is, no one displays any passion or fresh perspective.

    Seattle would better benefit with leaders who actually know how to lead and get things done versus architects who are too focused on technical details. I think we have bigger issues than how dense any one given neighborhood is becoming.

    • Whatever to Steinbrueck. All one needs to do is read this 2006 Seattle Weekly article to be reminded that Peter Steinbrueck isn’t all that. In fact, he’s pretty lame. Just another politician.

      Recently, I asked Steinbrueck to address his flip-flop on his stand with regard to the 2006 “right of first refusal” issue and his lack of effort to control rent then, via his FB page. His answer? Crickets. Nothing. Nada. I doubt he’ll get my vote.

      I don’t know who will. The field is beyond underwhelming. So much so that McGinn seems viable in their context. So lame.

      In my view, the question is, do we have single candidate who’s not a lying political hack to chose from? I dunno; do we? What do you think?

      • of course these guys are politicians.

        John Fox and Tim Harris, critical of Steinbrueck in that article, are endorsers. He talks briefly to the issue here:

        You don’t want to support him because he didn’t respond to a facebook post? geez, hundreds of letters have been written on micro-housing, and McGinn has done zip. and that’s that’s not crickets. that’s a big “eff you” to Capitol Hill property owners…

      • The point is, he didn’t respond at all. This was months ago that I posed the simple question. On HIS campaign website that he said he’d use to communicate with citizens of Seattle. Funny, last time I checked, most folks can, at least, get an aide to give a response. I get answers from Patty Murray’s office. Somehow, they have time to respond. I don’t trust the guy. Besides, the point of the article has less to do with who backs him now and more to do with the fact that he reneged on a commitment toward affordable housing. I wasn’t asking about microhousing. Not at all. I, like thousands of others, want to know what Steinbrueck will do to keep residents from being run out of town by high rents (without sticking us all in closets, er “pods”. I hate aPODments. I also hate connivers like Steinbrueck who offer zilch in the way of true, workable solutions to our problems. That puts Steinbrueck no better than Mr. “I have ideas but zero skill to execute them” McGinn in my book.

        Pay attention, if it comes across like a slick politician, it probably is. Ask yourself, is that REALLY what Seattle needs. I’m not convinced there isn’t a better option than hacks like Murray, Steinbrueck and McGinn. Geez. ;-)

      • Love the comments about Steinbrueck…I am on the fence about who would be the “best” mayor for Seattle. I am really concerned about the high density on Capitol Hill. I feel like long time residents are being forced out of their dwellings because of high rent. I don’t know who I will vote for…any suggestions???

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  4. It’s true that Peter is a more nuanced candidate than the others- this can be frustrating at times, figuring out where his “true urbanism” will lead him, if elected.

    He’s also a shrewd politician- for example, it’s hard to believe his statement about not supporting any upzoning in single family areas, made at the Russian community forum. Hard to believe any urbanist mayor would have a policy like that, and he acknowledged as much by saying that it was a loaded question. But that’s what his supporters want to hear. The urbanists at Seattle Transit Blog won’t go near him with a ten foot pole.

    At a recent forum on street safety, he suggested creating pedestrian rights-of-way through private property away from dangerous streets: the sort of thing that’s happening on 12th and Pike with the mews next to Pettirosso. This is the sort of thing that I’m looking for from an urbanist mayor. There isn’t anyone at the city level advocating for good design. South Lake Union is a great example of that failing.

    I’m supporting Peter through the primary in the hope that we can get to a real debate with Ed Murray’s hippocritical mean-nothing attacks out of the way. Hopefully we can get some real answers from Peter.

    • “more nuanced candidate” = slick, scummy liar.

      Don’t complain when you get just that as your next mayor if you support Steinbrueck. Then again, who to vote for? Harrell seems like the only one who’s not a liar or schmuck -but I’m not sure he can “bring it” either. Sigh.

      • You demand more than soundbites from the politicians.

        We must demand better candidates and answers than the crap being shoveled onto us.

        Or, we can slowly wallow away while only the rich and ignorant enjoy the mess that’s left.

    • Backwards is right. Back to fire-trap SRO’s and tenement housing built for early American immigrants. Epidemics spread easily due to shared kitchens, sinks and bathrooms. Back to an 18th century trolley system and maybe back to the horse and buggy? At least we could use the horse manure for the garden–if anyone had any space for a garden. When we have a crime rate as high as Chicago, especially for minority youth, we will have to raise millions of dollars to study the problem. Maybe we should start collecting now?

      It used to be socially responsible to provide some parking with development now it is socially responsible NOT to provide any parking, not even a loading zone for buildings with 64 people and a business. The City says people should go out and FIGHT for a parking space. City officials write more parking tickets and make more money. They drive around in cars regulating while the population limps to poorly conceived public transit. Elected officials live in single family neighborhood and say microhousing is for these “other people,” these “temporary people,” these “transitional people” who don’t have the same needs, wants, hopes as real people? They say people have chosen to live this way. Not having money is rarely a choice. I thought people living in the Northwest had minimum standards for all human beings. Evidently not.

      Minimum standards are only for those people rich enough to have a sink in both the kitchen and the bathroom? These “other people” will have to wash their hands after defecating in a sink filled with the salad greens they might want to eat? And since their microwave is only big enough for a Pita Pocket can we expect them to be healthy and happy eating so much prepared food? These people are the ones who have to leave their small space to fight for space on the sidewalk, on the street, in the park, on public transit. These “other people” will be ready to fight with you who have space, sinks and a four burner stove. They have every right to be grouchy so watch out. You would too if you had SEVEN roommates you didn’t like and not enough money to move out.

      Back to Soviet era commune development. It didn’t work so well there. Are we living in Seattle or Bangladesh?

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  6. Pretty obvious some architectural and urban planning skills are needed in Seattle these days. Lawyers, former athletes and Olympia legislators aren’t going to cut it. Lack of planning and foresight is leading us to future social and transportation disasters.

    Rampant microhousing development on Capitol Hill has led to huge rent increases. Carpetbaggers come to town, claim a shortage and start selling apples for $25 per pound while natives have been selling them for $5 per pound. The natives catch on and now they are selling apples at $25 per pound. Check the apartment listings on CraigsList. Thank you, Mr. McGinn for making some people very rich! These small units with eight adults sharing a four burner stove is for what the City now terms, “Transitional People.” Quite a derogatory term. Shall we let them have windows or do they have to pay extra? Right now, city officials say these “Transitional People” are spending all their time (and money) in coffee houses, restaurants and night clubs so they don’t need living space. Those who can’t afford this type of day-time shelter are being urged to go to Cal Anderson park where the crime rate is soaring. Guess NW values of equality and fairness are being traded for some good old-fashioned greed.

    Love how McGinn is claiming to be bicycle friendly and then posting signs, “No Bicycles on Broadway.” His 18th century trolley track system will be unsafe for bicyclist all across town. How many broken pelvises will it take for the bicyclists to wake up and realize they’ve been had?

    • Bikes are prohibited from Broadway just during construction. When the streetcar is done it will feature an awesome European style cycletrack that will be totally separate from the streetcar tracks.

      • A small carrot. The metal tracks will still be there–dangerous when dry and fatal when wet. And the backwards trolley system will be expanded throughout the urban core. The money could be spent on the shrinking bus service which takes more cars off the road. Right now, bicycles and pedestrians are the target of cars looking for parking as well as cars racing through neighborhoods looking for alternate routes due to the poor transportation planning on arterials. Don’t forget Mr. McGinn wants massive growth with no parking which will make the situation more explosive. Bicycles and pedestrians are considered roadkill in Seattle these days. I used to ride a bicycle but I now consider it far too dangerous. Too many dead or limping friends.

        When I want my carpet cleaned, I don’t call my hairdresser. When I need a realistic urban plan, I don’t call an attorney, a former athlete or a bureaucrat from Olympia.

      • Exaggerate much?

        On Broadway, the streetcar tracks will only be a hazard to cyclists if they choose to ignore the separated cycle lanes….and if they do that, it’s their own fault if they have an accident.

        Cyclists and pedestrians are “roadkill” and “the target of cars”? Puh-leez! And exactly how many “dead and limping” friends do you have?

        Making exaggerated claims does nothing to make a point.

      • Two years in August for Matthew, dog whisperer and his now orphaned dog, Dora. Matthew was a young man who had survived extreme sports in Montana but not Seattle streets on a bicycle. He was set to move back to Montana to take care of an elderly father who is now devastated by his loss. The driver of the car couldn’t be charged because the lousy planning and design of the street made death impossible to avoid.

        Stefanie, fit, in her early forties, who crossed a short section of wet metal rail and severely broke her pelvis. She was between jobs and the City refused to pay her medical bills. No more bike riding for her.

        I’m sure blog readers can add to this list!

        You might have a good idea though if we require bicyclists to walk their bikes to the Broadway bike track as a safety measure. And then all the other city cyclists inconvenienced by McGinn’s ever-expanding trolley system can walk their bikes over to Broadway’s expensive new bike track so they can ride safely?

        How many attorneys does it take to screw in a light bulb?

      • Exaggerated (perhaps) or not, Chapstick makes way more valid points than not. The ringer?: “Lawyers, former athletes and Olympia legislators aren’t going to cut it.” True dat.

        What a crap bunch of hacks and ho-hums running for the mayorship, the head job as leader of one of the best cities in the USA. WTF? So sad. Will someone with a clue, intelligence, education on the issues actually facing Seattle, as well as social skills and the wealth to remain virtuous or, preferably a vow-of-poverty, please RUN FOR MAYOR NOW!!!!

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  8. Peter is very two faced when it comes to the stadium issue. The port and M’s are clearly in his pocket and I don’t like that. This “in the pocket” way of doing business is not good and Peter is right in the thick of it.
    Also – he does totally give canned answers to every question – reminds me of Inslee… but I guess it worked out for him.
    McGinn or Murray are good choices.

    • So it is better to sacrifice high-wage Port of Seattle jobs in favor of low-wage pretzel selling jobs at a Basketball Stadium? Traffic is already a snarl down there and if it gets worse, business will go to other Ports. Happens all the time. Put the Stadium somewhere where it won’t hurt a mainstay of our economy. Good for Steinbrueck to have studied an alternative. None of the other candidates have.

      I keep a lovely photo of Mayor McGinn with his arms draped around basketball developer Chris Hanson. I have another photo of Mayor McGinn with his arms draped around the head of Skanska Construction–world’s second largest. McGinn put her on the citizens’ East Side Design Review Board. Just so you know who is calling the shots on Capitol Hill’s development–as well as elsewhere in the city. Ask Wallingford. The Shoreline Management Act was altered in favor of a Skanska project that will shade Lake Union for 300 or so years.

  9. “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.”

    WTF? (excuse my language)
    This is exactly the wrong thing to do. Let’s put more housing further from jobs?
    I definitely will not be voting for this clown. The city already has well defined areas for high-density: downtown, SLU, First Hill, south Capitol Hill, part of Eastlake. All are central and closer to jobs.

    • don’t forget Denny Triangle! It’s hard to forget, since it and parts of downtown/belltown adjacent to it are where basically all of the high rise construction in the city is going on right now. It’ll basically be unrecognisable in 5 years, which is no great loss because it is mostly parking lot now.

      • Do you live in Denny Triangle? If you’re encouraging development there and not where you live, aren’t you NIMBY?

    • Actually there is a huge opportunity that has been squandered by the McGinn administration and that is to help facilitate dense development around the south end light rail stops. All that talk about TOD and much around those stations remains blighted. And now is the time to be focusing on the further extensions of Link and Rapid Ride (making it raid in reality, not in name) and getting ready to densely populate around those areas.

      Instead McGinn looks the other way while DPD authorizes nearly 3000 micro-unit projects – as if 150 sqft apartments is a solution to our housing shortage.

      Same with South Lake Union – McGinn squandered a tremendous opportunity to get balanced housing and job growth. Instead jobs far outflank housing and -bam – we end up with incredible housing pressures on surrounding neighborhoods like Cap Hill. While people have ridiculed Steinbrueck over his opposition to the SLU plans as “NIMBY” or “anti-density”, the reality is the plan was fundamentally a bad growth plan for the city (albeit a good one for the property owners). Steinbrueck’s sin was to point that out.

      Steinbrueck is smart, understands development and urban issues (like transit, that McGinn has talked about and not delivered, and in fact is worsening as anyone stuck in traffic or losing bus service will tell you), and he is ready to lead (and won’t be an on-the-job trainee like Murray).

      The best his opposition can do is misrepresent Steinbrueck’s positions and call him names. It’s time to let Seattle get back on track…

      • Wait. I agree with many of your points but… Steinbrueck has NOT offered a solution in SLU that fixes the problem- not enough (affordable) housing. And, though he’s been right in pointing out that SLU needs some big green space, he’s dead wrong on density. SLU is just the type of neighborhood that is very well positioned for tall Vancouver-style needle-towers to house Amazon, Nordstrom, RealNetworks, Union Bay, UW, Attachmate and other immediate-area employees. Steinbrueck is a political hack with just enough Urban Planning knowledge and canned responses to be dangerous. He exploits this but offers very little on specifics. Typical, typical, typical.

  10. If urban-minded and younger voters fail to mail in their ballots then Steinbrueck might actually make it through the primary. I don’t care if you vote for McGinn, Murray or Harrell. Please, please, please vote for anyone, just not Steinbrueck. He might make a decent mayor of Kirkland but I actually enjoy living in a city. That is why I chose to live in a city instead of in the suburbs. One of the reasons I like Capitol Hill so much is because it is a legitimate urban neighborhood. I love the fact that light rail and other infrastructure is actually being planned, developed and built here and that the current politicians aren’t afraid of healthy urban development, more transportation options and better night life initiatives. I also like the fact that small businesses are thriving here because they have way more potential customers on the streets. So I have way more options as a customer and way more reasons to leave my apartment on a rainy evening and enjoy my neighborhood and my city.

    • Retail therapy! Way to go! I enjoy shopping over thinking, too. Please keep your purse close to your body though for all those other citizens who can’t afford your urban vision. As you might have noticed from this blog, crime is on the rise on these high density streets. I wonder why? Maybe from an overabundance of happiness?

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