Category Archives: Politics

The “Seattle Process” is how we got a Seattle $15 minimum wage “without a fight”

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Businessweek has a fascinating story about how Ed Murray’s recent proposal to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour came to be. I think it understates the importance of Ksama Sawant’s election to the city council and her effect at setting the tone and terms of debate (she’s not even mentioned), but it’s an instructive look at when “Seattle Process” actually works. It notes:

Murray gave the group four months to work out a deal. If they failed, he vowed to present the city council with his own proposal, which both sides were sure to hate. He chose April 30 as a deadline because May is when outside groups that propose ballot initiatives typically start gathering signatures.

Local business leaders decided that joining the effort was in their best interest. “There is no doubt in my mind that this $15 is coming to Seattle,” says (committee member and founder of Seattle Hospitality Group Howard) Wright. “So if we accept that as a premise, let’s figure out how to do it well.” Labor leaders in the group wanted a pay increase to take effect quickly; business owners wanted to phase it in over many years. Labor insisted that tips and benefits not count as part of someone’s wages; businesses thought they should be able to pay lower hourly rates if they provided other compensation such as retirement contributions. Everyone thought small businesses should get extra time to comply, but no one agreed on how to define “small.”

A month before the deadline, Murray narrowed the group to eight negotiators. The G8, as they became known, took over several rooms in the mayor’s office. A breakthrough came on April 14, when someone—the person asked not to be named, (president of a local SEIU Healthcare union David) Rolf says—sketched out a chart showing how a proposed compromise would let wages at different workplaces rise at different rates. Businesses could count tips and health care in calculating minimum pay for workers, but only temporarily. Eventually those concessions would phase out and every employer would have to pay the same minimum wage. “You could see the body language in the room change,” says Rolf.

The jury is still out on Ed Murray as a mayor and leader (I believe he badly mishandled SPD misconduct cases and reform and his opposition to a measure to help stave off draconian Metro cuts reeks of pettiness), but I think he deserves a lot of credit here for not letting the idea be slowly killed in the process. At one point, it looked like restaurant servers were being pitted against other low-wage workers to kill the measure. That didn’t happen, and it’s the first real significant “win” in Murray’s short time at mayor.

A lot of things can happen because this is only a proposal that hasn’t been voted on by the City Council, but the Seattle Process looks like it could be a model for how other governments can accomplish big things. God help us all.

WWJKD: Seattle’s film and music scenes turn out to roast James Keblas


The Roast of James Keblas, the former director of the Seattle Office of Film and Music, had an auspicious start. The Showbox felt at first like a networking mixer, with people exchanging business cards and pitching their startups to strangers. Chatter was heard over the Master of Ceremonies, KEXP DJ Riz Rollins. He sounded frustrated when he began by asking if there were any other gay people in the crowd, and when the response was tepid, told the crowd he was getting an “Arizona” vibe from them and vowed to “convert a few of you motherfuckers.”

But eventually the cocktail chatter tailed off and the roast of Keblas began. He was given a crown and cape, before being escorted to his chair on stage at the Showbox. He removed only the latter. It was a roast, with VIPs from the Seattle arts community alternating between insults and heartfelt adoration for Keblas. Filmmaker Megan Griffiths did a karaoke performance of Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory.”

Keblas has a strong legacy and many accomplishments from his tenure that lasted 9 years (first being appointed by Mayor Greg Nickels), so it is easy to see why he is so beloved in Seattle. The City of Music campaign expanded the influence of Seattle music by making it be heard in places like the SeaTac Airport, and he gets a lot of credit for the $25 a day film permit standard (though his predecessor as the Mayor’s Film Office, Donna James, and Keblas, both noted happened under her watch).

A foundation was setup and announced at the roast. Called “The James Keblas Foundation,” in-person donations of $25 or more were rewarded with “What Would Keblas Do?” bracelets.

Ben London, the former chapter president of the Grammys, got in the first barb that made the crowd feel taken aback (in a good way) when he said, “They say it burns to get fired, but now you know how your ex-wife feels.” It may have been the first really pointed zinger, but it was far from the last.

Megan Jasper, vice president of Sub Pop Records, played the part usually reserved for Gilbert Gottfried at roasts. She had plenty of raunchy jokes. She was audacious and hilarious. For me, the most memorable one-liner was when she said “James thought SIFF was short for syphilis.” She also said that the perception was that Keblas, a founder of the Vera Project, didn’t have the same background in film as he did in music, but that that wasn’t true. She said, “James actually has a lot of experience in film… He did a fabulous job in Weapons of Ass Destruction, and who could forget Rumpled Foreskin?”

Videos were interspersed, continuing the theme of the roast. Rollins noted that most of the people who couldn’t attend and sent videos instead were probably working on Aurora Avenue at the time. KEXP’s Tom Mara, musician John Roderick, beloved filmmaker Lynn Shelton, and Sir Mix-A-Lot roasted Keblas by video. Mix-A-Lot’s got the most traction for saying that Keblas was “officially a black man” because he was “fucked by the man.”

Former mayor Mike McGinn, whose losing 2013 campaign led (indirectly) to Keblas not being kept on, was the final “roaster.” He got in a few good lines, like saying that there were a lot of jobs in Seattle now than there were previously. He noted that Keblas “could put a pink mustache on his car” or “open a medical marijuana dispensary.” But after each job he mentioned, he said, “for now,” proving that Ed Murray’s decisive victory last November still stings and that passive aggression is still the “Seattle Way.”

One thing that was notable about the evening was that almost everyone was subject to a ribbing, save for Kate Becker, who succeeded Keblas as director of the Office of Film and Music. Also, I think a reason that the Seattle film community has been so vocal about their disappointment of Keblas’ not being retained by Mayor Murray was that Keblas proved to be an ally for the film community even though is background was in music. That is going to be one of the major challenges Becker faces in the immediate future.

There was a lot of inside baseball throughout the night. Restaurant owner and nightlife leader Dave Meinert was on the receiving end of more than a few jokes due to his public support of Murray. In his speech, Keblas wasn’t sure if Meinert was there or not, but it turned out he was seated at a table in the middle of the Showbox floor. Keblas said, “Dave Meinert had to take a bus to get here because he lost his license for being asleep at the wheel when all of this shit went down.”

James Keblas closed out his long speech (which even included a shoutout for seeing Sandrider on “Monday Night Football”) by saying people have been asking how to get ahold of him. He finished by saying they could “e-mail me at kate dot becker at Seattle dot gov. And fuck all of you.”

{Donations can be made to the James Keblas Foundation here.}

Just Like at Gawker, Commenter Rewrites Seattle Times Headline on Crime

Back in July, Nick Denton announced to great fanfare that Gawker readers would be able to headline stories their way, complete with introductory commentary, thanks to a new platform called Kinja. Turns out the Seattle Times has a similar capability — it’s just not as turnkey.

Times_Crime

Overnight, a commenter on a story about the violent crime rate in downtown Seattle changed the headline for everyone. In a follow-on story to the shooting of a Metro bus driver, the Times supported the Downtown Seattle Association’s contention that crime is getting worse, before noting that the data say no, same old, same old. (For a brief moment, The Stranger and Seattle Times agreed.)

Hold up, said Blue N Green:

Headline: “Violent crime is rising”

Article: “But an analysis by The Seattle Times of crime statistics for the downtown area … shows a steady level of violent crime throughout the past five years.”

So is it rising or is it steady? I know the headline is better if it’s rising, but pull it together, editorial.

Fewer than 12 hours later, Seattle Times staff responded: “Thanks, @BlueNGreen, for your comment on our headline. We’ve adjusted it to more accurately reflect the story. We appreciate your note.” New headline? “Violent crime steady downtown for past five years, Times data show.”

Major_Crimes

Mayor McGinn
Mayor McGinn

Responding to the DSA’s concerns, Mayor McGinn had attempted to argue the stats as well: ““We are at a 30-year crime low and this year is coming in lower than last year.” That’s a losing strategy when you’re talking to people who have been personally affected by violent crime. (Statistics have never cured anyone’s fear of flying.) And using aggregated crime statistics is a way to mask hot spots. Since, he’s retreated to the safer option of throwing more police officers at Seattle’s mean streets.

The past five years have seen any number of plans to improve safety downtown and in Belltown — and to address gang shootings and attacks in south Seattle. With violent crime holding steady, it would appear the current strategy, not just headlines, needs to be rewritten as well.

McGinn and Murray to Battle for November’s Mayoral Title

(Image: King County Elections)
NB: This graph alternates between 2 and 3 percentage points, yet displays equal visual weight for both (Image: King County Elections)

The first ballot drop in the August mayoral primary took place last night around 8 p.m. With 98,328 ballots counted (and 96,445 on hand to be counted, plus whatever continue to trickle in through the mail), Ed Murray and Mike McGinn have established clear leads over the rest of the field.

Third-place Peter Steinbrueck, saying he’d slept on it, conceded this morning, said KUOW. He declined at that time to make an endorsement, though when we spoke with him earlier in the campaign, he admitted to less of an affinity for the Murray campaign.

The next update is due at 4:30 p.m. today. If, as one narrative has it, younger voters procrastinated on mailing their ballots, McGinn, who is said to be strong with that demographic, could eat into Murray’s 2,884-vote lead.

[UPDATE: As of the August 8 afternoon drop, McGinn has indeed pulled to within two percent of Murray, with King County Elections reporting 140,000 Seattle ballots ready to count.]

In the City Council primary races, socialist economist Kshama Sawant won 33 percent of the vote against incumbent Richard Conlin’s 49 percent. Incumbent Mike O’Brien, whom conventional wisdom proclaimed vulnerable, fared much better in his outing, with 57 percent to challenger and non-socialist Albert Shen’s 35 percent.

In the Seattle School District board director primaries, Stephan Blanford seems to have his race already sewn up, with 78 percent of the vote, while Suzanne Dale Estey leads Sue Peters 47.5 percent to 42 percent.

At King County level, Executive Dow Constantine is slightly more popular than even parks, carrying 75.5 percent to the parks levy’s 68 percent approval.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Waterfront

Collage created from Waterfront Seattle images.
Suitable for framing, MvB’s collage created from Waterfront Seattle images.

Across Seattle, a chorus of feeble, “Wait…what?”s are arising as people catch sight of artist’s illustrations of the new waterfront “boulevard” envisioned by city planners. Internet philosophe Fnarf anticipates much of the reaction with his article “City Proposes Waterfront Highway on Top of Tunnel” on Slog.

Seattle Bike Blog, while approving of the cycle tracks, says, “The new Alaskan Way, located mostly within the current footprint of the viaduct, will be four or five lanes for most of its length until it reaches Columbia Street. South of Columbia, it completely explodes with travel lanes and starts to look a whole lot more like a freeway than a waterfront boulevard.”

The assumption that, with a tunnel, the Viaduct would go away and be replaced by a meandering, flower-speckled goat-track was always suspect. From the beginning, a multi-lane boulevard was sketched out by the dead hand of history — how could the city replace Alaskan Way with anything less than its current lanes and retain its self-respect? The official Waterfront Seattle rhetoric soft-pedaled that, though, with talk of healing the scar created by the Viaduct, and stitching the waterfront back to the city.

Thus the surprise when images like this surface. Look at how tiny the people are! That’s because the streets are so big.

Waterfront Seattle illustration
Waterfront Seattle illustration

In these illustrations, the stitch to fix the scar is about as wide as the waterfront itself, and wider at parts. Tourists will share those remarkably spacious lanes with freight traffic delivering goods to the city. (The city-bypassing deep-bore tunnel also bans anything flammable or explosive, pushing those trucks onto the scenic drive as well.) The speed of boulevard traffic means the addition of parking/loading lanes, so that the “thin” north end is perhaps (with planted median) 80 feet or more.

That median separates north and southbound traffic, of course, but it’s also there because many won’t have enough time to cross the whole street in one go. The Street and Transit Update (pdf) avoids, anywhere, detailing the complete width of the boulevard. A street tree buffer is six feet wide, a sidewalk twelve feet, but lanes go unmeasured.

Isn’t this similar to San Francisco’s Embarcadero, some ask? It is. The difference is that San Francisco opted for a grand boulevard (and its tradeoffs) rather than spend $2 billion on a new tunnel, viaduct, or freeway. The state seems willing to spend $2 billion on a tunnel for Seattle and to clog its waterfront with cars and trucks.

(That said, with tunneling about to begin, the state is still trying to locate all of the $2 billion required, thanks to shortfalls in toll revenue projections. Neither has the Port of Seattle yet put paid on its $300 million, an amount that would have gotten them a much-needed overpass.)

Although the outrage “hook” is the view of nine lanes for motor vehicles (in part to speed ferry traffic to and from Colman Dock), Fnarf has a more insightful point to make as well:

But, as usual, what is missing from these photos is a city. The planners know how to build roads, so they build roads, but they have no idea how to build a city, so they just airbrush it out.

That’s to understate the role of cut-and-paste in this plan. If there is a street “enhancement” that’s been left out, it would be hard to say what it was. But they’re provided without context, plucked from cities and situations without regard for the environment that supports them.

All those verdant tree buffers and medians make sense in cities with a history of funding the kind of meticulous, ongoing landscaping care they require. Seattle’s budget doesn’t allow for its parks’ grass to be mowed weekly. Its sidewalks are everywhere in unsafe disrepair. The city has proven so averse to maintenance and upkeep that existing waterfront sidewalks sometimes swallow people up.

A city is always evidence of argument — sometimes of compromise, but at other times a single perspective has clearly won. Down at Seattle’s waterfront, there’s no possibility of agreement. Promenades and cycle tracks and places for leisure and sight-seeing can do nothing but clash with the exigencies of the workaday commute and the freight-delivery traffic that keeps downtown supplied. The tunnel was going to bury that argument, we were told, but here it is again.