Almost 50 people move to Seattle every day(1). Every one of them needs new housing, walkable parks, schools, and all the other infrastructural resources that make Seattle livable. Yet, our political leaders refuse to upgrade these amenities through common-sense measures like impact fees, and our citizens pay the price of unmanaged growth. Seattle’s ideological and philosophical governance has failed, and the ensuing lack of results is undeniable. This decade’s fastest-growing big city needs a serious overhaul of its local governance.
The time has never been better; seven of the nine City Council seats are up for grabs with elections in November. We cannot continue the same path and expect different results. The newly elected council must repair our broken system and steer our city in the right direction.
Seattle has grown swiftly, but its budget has grown even more. In fact, Seattle’s government grew faster than any major US city between 2012 and 2017(2). The city’s population grew by 11%, but government costs shot up a whopping 40%. If the Council used the budget efficiently, perhaps this could be justified. Yet, the reality we face is incredible wealth juxtaposed with stifling poverty, transportation nightmares, public safety issues, and a severe backlog of basic infrastructural needs- like roads, parks, and schools.
Seattle has limited resources and must focus on tackling the most vital issues first through a pragmatic and solution-driven response. Instead, we see superficial projects without real value. With all the issues facing Seattle, how can we justify a $286 million(3) streetcar that will creep through congested downtown streets with little utility? The streetcar’s projected $18 million annual operations cost means we will spend over $450 million in the next ten years on a vanity project to satisfy special interests. This is not only wrong; it amounts to gross negligence.
Instead, we must build a bridge to housing for the over 4,000 people in our city who are sleeping unsheltered every night. Let’s do the math: we can spend $450 million for a near-useless streetcar or we can spend that same money on addressing our homeless crisis. Divided out, that equals more than $110,000 per unsheltered person. It’s about priorities. It’s about common sense. We cannot continue to spend residents’ hard-earned tax dollars on pet projects; we need to address our most pressing issues.
The City of Seattle must regain the confidence of its citizens, which will take constant incremental improvement. Four Councilmembers are not seeking re-election. Given some of their job approval ratings, this is not surprising. Three district Councilmembers are running in competitive races, and those who are likely to remain in their seats have truly represented their constituents. Effective Councilmembers should keep their seats, but those who not willing to work toward cooperative leadership need to go.
The citizens of Seattle want and need change. As I knock on doors and meet with my neighbors, they consistently tell me City Hall does not listen to them. They want and deserve a voice in City Hall. But what will change the course of the next Council and successfully tackle the many growth-related issues we face? It comes down to performance-oriented, budget-savvy management.
We need leaders with a proven track record who have led organizations, efficiently managed budgets, and are not only dreamers but doers. Moreover, we need representatives who can build collaborative relationships with fellow Councilmembers, the residents of Seattle, and regional players in King County and the State.
Out with unrealistic dreams and in with pragmatic results. The time for change is now.
Jon Lisbin is a long time Ballard resident, former buesiness owner and recent UW Evan's School EMPA graduate. He's currently President of Seattle Fair Growth and a founding member of the SCALE Coalition appealing Seattle's MHA Environmental Impact Study. He is running for Seattle City Council District 6.