Note 1: I’ve been chipping away at this post for about eight twelve months off and on. I finally managed to bring it in for a landing yesterday night. File it under #slowblogging and #longreads.
Sam Lefebvre’s recent cover story on Pandora in the East Bay Express overlaps some of what I discuss here, and it’s well worth reading. That said, as our respective focuses aren’t the same in every regard, I’m hopeful that this post will serve as a useful compliment to Lefebrvre’s piece.
Note 2: This post was updated on December 8, 2014 with a bit of new content based on some comments I received when it first went up. I expect there will probably be more substantive updates as time goes by, and if that happens, I’ll let you know right here.
Note 3: If you’d rather read this post off-line, feel free to download a copy of it in pdf, MOBI, or EPUB format. Apologies in advance for any formatting anomalies. I’m not yet a wizard at doing ebook format conversions.
Of all the dedicated digital music streaming services to come on-line since 2000, none has drawn the ire of the music industry quite like Pandora.
On its face, this may seem peculiar. After all, Pandora is a legal, royalty paying service. It has passed 250 million registered users in the U.S. Moreover, despite loud protestations to the contrary, there’s a credible argument to be made that, on a per listener basis, Pandora actually pays more royalties per spin to both songwriters and master rights-holders than does terrestrial radio.
So shouldn’t Pandora be a win for record labels and music publishers? Aren’t they being irrational in hating Pandora more than all the other services?
Succinctly, no. Pandora has been more disruptive of established music industry practices than any other major legal streaming music service. So the music industry has some very real reasons–both financial and aesthetic–to hate Pandora.
Lots of discussion and some confusion about the mayor’s recently announced minimum wage proposal (actually it’s the work of a committee of business, labor leaders, and politicians that he convened).
To me, the most useful quick and dirty metric for thinking about the proposal is to look at the proposed minimum wage increase in 2014 dollars and then ask how it relates to the current minimum wage.
That’s the number you get when you do this equation:
Proposed Seattle Minimum Wage in 2014 dollars/Current Washington Minimum Wage
If the final minimum wage increase ends up being $13.25/hr in 2014 dollars as Goldie has argued on his Horse’s Ass blog, that is a little more than 1.4 times what the current state minimum wage is now (and 1.7 times the current federal minimum).
Fifteen dollars an hour in current dollars would be around 1.6 times the current state minimum and almost twice as high as the current federal minimum.
Some people didn’t want to raise the minimum wage at all. Some people wanted it to immediately be 1.6 times greater than it is now. Those are the two polar extremes.
But everybody who supports raising Seattle’s minimum wage didn’t necessarily support immediately making it 1.6 times higher than it is now. Indeed, I suspect as more people have drilled down on the details, they’ve come to understand that this is an issue with a lot of moving parts and dependencies.
One poll showed that 68% of Seattle voters favored raising the minimum to $15 an hour, but I doubt those people are a monolith. What that poll shows is that Seattle voters want substantive action on this issue. That’s why business can’t just put its head in the sand and stonewall. Nevertheless, the poll doesn’t say that every single member of that 68% would oppose a reasonable compromise.
That seems to be what Murray’s commission has delivered: a compromise proposal that gets us to a minimum wage around 1.4 times greater than it is now, which is about where I thought things would end up. It’s a big enough increase to show meaningful substantive action on the issue and no bigger.
If this plan passes the Council, I can see why some of the more hardline folks on the left will be disappointed. They haven’t had this much wind in their sails on an economic justice issue since the early 1970s. But I can also see why organized labor is going to walk away feeling pretty good about the outcome.
This is precedent they can use moving forward, and it’s probably closer to a number that can play in less liberal and affluent cities than Seattle. So it doesn’t seem like some crazy anomaly.
I hope the hardline folks will eventually put things in perspective, follow suit, and feel good about it too. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
If you had told most left-of-center folks in 2012 that Seattle business leaders in 2014 would sign off on raising the city’s minimum wage to 1.4 times the state minimum (already among the highest in the nation), I think most people would have seen that as something to be psyched about.
It may not be a perfect win, like the Seahawks blowing out the Broncos in the Super Bowl back in January. But it’s a win nevertheless
Update: Unless something significant changes as the late returns are counted, it looks like Mayor McGinn will be facing off against Ed Murray in the general election this fall. This promises to be as bare-knuckle a political fight as we’ve seen in Seattle in quite some time.
For many people, I expect it will be a difficult choice. And if you are here reading this post right now, I’m guessing you’re in the process of trying to figure out what decision to make.
As you do that, I suggest you consider the following: University of Washington professors Robert Plotnick and Sandeep Krishnamurthy recently noted that a mayor’s biggest impact is typically on the long-term economic development of a city.
While in office, there are many immediate issues a mayor has very little control over. But a mayor can significantly affect things like zoning, infrastructure policy, and education policy. These, in turn, create the blueprint for a city’s future.
Remember, it isn’t just about what the mayor will do in the next few years. It’s about how the mayor’s long-term vision affects what the city becomes 10, 15, or 25 years from now.
Too often, as a voter, it’s easy to focus on the last few years or the next few years. People sometimes don’t consider how much time it takes for certain plans to be put in place and executed. They just see all those condos going up around town the last few years and they become “McGinn’s condos,” even though many of these projects were initiated before he took office.
So whoever you choose in the general election, try to avoid being short-sighted like that. Look at the big picture and the long-arc of neighborhood development.
That’s what I tried to do as I wrote up this long blog post. And if you take the time to read the remainder of it, you’ll see that many of my reasons for sticking with Mayor McGinn relate to his long-term vision.
Simply put, it’s a vision of Seattle’s future that makes sense to me.
Big news. Tim Burgess has dropped out of the Seattle Mayor’s race. That leaves three front-running candidates: Mayor Mike McGinn; former Seattle City Council President Peter Steinbrueck; and current Washington State Senator (and sort of Majority Leader) Ed Murray.
I’ve voted for all of these guys at one time or another. Murray and Steinbrueck are icons of liberal Seattle politics. McGinn was more of dark horse when he won the last mayor’s race. But he is arguably even more progressive than the other two. So it’s a tough call for sure. And there probably isn’t a truly a bad choice in the bunch. That being said, at this point I remain all in for McGinn. In fact, I’m probably more all in for McGinn right now than I was the day I voted for him in the last election.
I know, McGinn’s Don Quixote windmill act on the Seattle Viaduct Tunnel got very tiresome. It stretched my patience to the breaking point, and it definitely didn’t make a great first impression on a lot of other voters either, digging McGinn into a hole he’s been digging himself out of ever since. Along the same lines, I’ve heard that McGinn has not always been well-liked by insiders down at City Hall.
But observing things from afar, I like what I’ve seen from McGinn since the Viaduct issue was put to bed. He seems to have learned from that experience (see e.g., his work on the Sonics arena deal). On a lot of issues that are important to me, I’ve liked his approach. So I’d like to see what happens if he’s given another four years to implement his long-term vision for Seattle.
With that in mind, here are seven reasons why I currently support McGinn for re-election.
1. If you believe that bringing the Sonics back to Seattle and building a new arena in SODO is about way more than basketball, then you should support McGinn.
It’s easy to see McGinn’s involvement in the Sonics deal as pure political opportunism. I mean, why has he jumped on this bandwagon when he was so against the Tunnel? It has to be a plea for the hearts and minds of over-emotional Sonics fans, right? Sure, that’s got to be part of it. There have definitely been political benefits for McGinn in aligning himself with this cause. But if you look more closely, you start to understand why this deal fits into McGinn’s vision of Seattle in a way that the Tunnel does not.
It isn’t just about getting the team back, although that would mean a lot to plenty of people. It’s the proposed location of the new arena that places this deal squarely in the wheel-house of the McGinn vision for Seattle. From a long-term urban planning standpoint, the proposed site in SODO is a no-brainer, because it intersects perfectly with all of the major transportation modalities in our city (including the forthcoming East Side Link Light Rail). This sort of public transit connectivity is exactly what McGinn wants for our city.
Team McGinn/Constantine did a miraculous job making the new arena a possibility (with a nice assist from Tim Burgess). Losing this site would be a tragic missed opportunity for our city. Now that it’s clear we are not getting the Sacramento Kings, we’re going to have to play the waiting game and hope for an expansion franchise. But if the political winds shift, allowing the current arena plan to unravel, it could undermine the entire deal for the current investor group.
To my mind, the best way to preserve and protect the current plan is to maintain the status quo at the city and county level. McGinn and Constantine apparently have a good working relationship with the Hansen/Ballmer Group. They already understand the ins and outs of the deal. They are a known commodity to the NBA, and they have a vested interest in making sure the deal survives.
Conversely, Steinbrueck was a member of the Seattle City Council in the years leading up to the departure of the Sonics from Seattle. And while it may not be fair to say that Steinbrueck was a part of the problem in that era, he definitely wasn’t a part of any solution then (and lately he has definitely been a part of the problem). The same goes for Murray. He was down in Olympia when the legislature gave the Heisman to David Stern and the NBA. So irrespective of the role he may or may not have played in that interaction, he’s still going to be that guy from Olympia in the eyes of the NBA.
If the current Sonics/arena deal dies and the Hansen/Ballmer Group disbands, we may still eventually get an NBA team in our region, but I suspect the arena will not be in SODO. Instead, it will be out in the suburbs. As a South Seattle native, Christopher Hansen seems to be a person with a real personal investment in keeping the team inside the Seattle city limits (in their way, the Nordstroms are also south of I-90 guys). Hansen has shown great creativity and resourcefulness, formulating a plan that addresses all of the many constraints imposed by I-91. He and his partners are also apparently willing to spend the money to get it done in the SODO location, even if it could be done more cheaply in the suburbs. I have my doubts that another ownership group is going to be willing to go the extra mile to keep the team inside Seattle.
This to me would be a great shame. At its best, an urban area is like a circle. A circle needs (and can only have) one center. In our region, Seattle is that center. I believe very passionately that it should remain that center. For better or worse, professional sports is something that can help to define the center of a place. Moving the Cleveland Cavaliers from the ex-urbs back to the City Center was an important step towards making the City Center of Cleveland relevant again (especially in the winter months). If you look at most American cities that have a strong, vibrant City Center, their sports teams play downtown.
I understand that a lot of my progressive brothers and sisters don’t give a shit about professional sports. The most ideologically pure among them believe that until every poor person has been fed and every homeless person housed, no public money, financing, or other support should be spent on anything else. And that’s a noble position to take. But in my experience, a lot of average people start to get social justice fatigue after a while. They look around and say, “what are my tax dollars getting me?” Rightly (or more probably) wrongly, they start to question the efficacy of contributing money to the public coffers.
For many people, professional sports is a community touchstone. It’s one of their little life pleasures. It makes living in an urban area feel more worthwhile. It makes them more enthusiastic about paying city and county taxes. This is particularly true of people who live in the suburbs. Many of these folks don’t work in Seattle either. The only time they come to Seattle is for a ballgame. If they don’t have to leave the East Side to do that, then they’re rarely if ever coming into the Center City at all.
I don’t see that scenario as a win for our city. The day those people don’t ever feel the need to come into Seattle is a very bad day for our city. Long-term, it’s probably even worse than the potential loss of jobs at the Port of Seattle.
As much respect as I have for Peter Steinbrueck, I think he made a misguided decision to align himself with the Port of Seattle against the Hansen/Ballmer SODO arena plan. It would be one thing if I thought the Port was really going to work hard to preserve shipping jobs in SODO long-term. But I don’t.
To me, SODO is a lot like South Lake Union was 20 years ago. At the time of the Seattle Commons vote, I heard a lot of talk about how we needed to vote “no” on the Commons to protect the light-industrial and warehouse space in SLU (“the soul of working Seattle”). I have a soft spot for that kind of space and that kind of soul. So I had a lot of sympathy for that position. Ultimately, I voted against the Seattle Commons.
But in the end, my architect friends (and Dan Savage) were right. They said that voting “no” wasn’t going to save the historical usage profile of that space. Re-development was going to happen in SLU, no matter what. The question was whether we wanted a nice new park to be part of it. Twenty years later, we’ve got the re-development. We just have no park. Mistake made by me. Lesson learned.
SODO seems like a similar deal. We have two good ports in our Metroplex: Seattle and Tacoma. Over the long haul, there’s a good chance that our economy won’t need both of them. Provided the Seattle economy continues to grow and prosper, the value of the land in SODO is going to appreciate at a faster rate than the land in Tacoma, because it is already worth considerably more right now. Eventually, it will become so valuable that it will not make practical or economic sense to use it for shipping anymore.
When this happens, it will make more sense for the shipping traffic to go to Tacoma. And moving forward from there, the Port’s long-term play in SODO isn’t going to look that different than a lot of other players down there (i.e., more about real estate development than cranes and cargo containers). In this regard, the history of the Port of San Francisco should be instructive. Under the headers “Modern Developments” and “Future Developments, the following projects are listed in Wikipedia article I linked to above:
Fisherman’s Wharf (tourist attraction)
Pier 39 (shopping center and popular tourist attraction)
Ferry Building (an upscale gourmet marketplace)
F Line Historic Streetcar (tourist attraction/transit)
Exploratorium (Museum/tourist attraction)
Cruise Terminal (Point of entry and exit for tourists)
AT&T Park (baseball field)
Warriors Arena (Basketball arena)
E Line Historic Streetcar (tourist attraction/transit)
Pier 70 (a site filled with historic buildings that is slated for re-development)
To my eye, none of the items above have anything to do with maintaining a working port in San Francisco. Similar to our region, the Bay Area also had two port locations. But over time, as real estate prices rose, San Francisco ceased to be a working port and the land was re-purposed for other uses. The port in Oakland has apparently picked up the slack.
Long-term, I expect that things will play out similarly in Seattle. So the question isn’t whether real estate development down in SODO is a good idea. It’s who is going to have a place at the table to decide what sort of development happens down there and when it’s going to happen. Which brings us to #2 below.
2. If you believe that economic development south of James Street is important, you should vote for McGinn.
The re-development of South Lake Union is at the front of everyone’s mind right now. It’s exploding, and it seems like that’s the future frontier. But from a planning and policy standpoint, it’s more in the past than in the future. The last 20 years have been leading up to the present moment in SLU (i.e., from the proposal of the Seattle Commons plan until now). And while there are still ground wars going on about zoning, building heights, and stuff like that, the really big decisions have already been made.
The new re-development frontier is in South Seattle. The next 20 years are going to be about the area from James Street down to Spokane Street (or maybe even Michigan Street). That’s where the action will be, because it’s the only central place in Seattle that hasn’t really been developed much.
Twenty or thirty years from now, the area I’ve described is going to look really different. The planned re-development of Yesler Terrace is going to transform southern First Hill/Capitol Hill into a very different (and presumably more upscale) neighborhood. This will undoubtedly flow down into the International District, which is fast becoming a major transit hub for the entire region.
The new tunnel under the Viaduct will open up lots of development opportunities along the waterfont (which was the whole point, yes?). This will spill west into Pioneer Square, which will rise again as a popular live/work neighborhood, particularly after the East Link starts service in 2023. At that point, people will be able to easily commute by rail out to the suburbs for work, while living in the city (or live in the suburbs while commuting into the city for work).
Most of the development described above seems to be driven either by old-school establishment players (e.g., the waterfront and Pioneer Square) or Paul Allen/Vulcan development (e.g., Yesler Terrace).
But potential re-development in SODO seems like more of a wildcard. That’s where the new arena comes in. It is the catalyst for development south of Atlantic Avenue and east of 1st Avenue. Basketball and hockey turn that area into a year-round affair. That’s a huge thing for people who are interested in opening bars, clubs, restaurants, etc. It means there won’t be a three-month dead zone between January and April each year, when there aren’t a lot of events happening. I don’t know whether it will make sense to put housing in this area too. But I do know this: It’s not likely to make sense to put housing down there without more business development happening first.
While there are certainly credible arguments about the value of professional sports to the overall economy of a city or region, it seems indisputable that sports can be a significant economic driver for particular neighborhoods within a city. Just today, there was an article in the New York Times about the current efforts by the Chicago Cubs to renovate Wrigley Field, the hundred-year-old baseball park on Chicago’s North Side, and an acknowledged economic driver within this neighborhood. (I can attest to this fact, as I used to live 3 blocks away from Wrigley back in the late 1980s.) Apparently, there are some 80 bars and restaurants within a mile of Wrigley Field, plus a bunch of other businesses that depend of baseball for their survival. In many respects, one might even say that this neighborhood has grown and prospered in concert with the baseball park.
I believe that the Port of Seattle has been pushing back so hard on the proposed SODO arena, because of the economic development possibilties I’ve sketched out above. The Port would prefer a scenario where they (and their buddies) control development both along the waterfront and in SODO. The last thing they want is competition. If over the course of the next five to ten years, Hansen and his people get lots of cool stuff happening east of 1st Ave S, it potentially dilutes whatever the Port may try to do along the waterfront (think about how light rail proponents worked to kill the monorail).
Personally, I think more competition down there is a good idea, especially to the extent that it brings new voices and new ideas into the system. I think McGinn will do a better job fostering that sort of competition and dialog than Murray or Steinbrueck (after all, his wagon is pretty seriously hitched to Hansen’s wagon at this point, and his opposition to the Tunnel shows that he’s not afraid to lock horns with the Port). I also like the idea of Hansen, a South End guy, being involved in the re-development of SODO (and I have to think he will be if the arena happens). That’s probably one of the real potential payouts for Hansen on the arena and the teams: ancillary development in the neighborhood.
Development around a new arena also seems more likely to benefit residents of South Seattle than will the waterfront development (which does very little to connect South Seattle to downtown). The more stuff that’s happening proximate to the SODO and Stadium light rail stations, the more attractive it becomes to live in the neighborhoods south of those stations along the light rail.
If a vibrant entertainment area is happening year-round, and it’s easily accessible via rail from Beacon Hill, Columbia City, Othello, and Rainier Beach, more people will view those neighborhoods as desirable places to live. This will undoubtedly lead to more small business development in those neighborhoods as well. (The area around the Othello station in particular feels loaded with possibilities.)
Moreover, as development creeps south from Pioneer Square towards Spokane Street, it will start to connect up with the Georgetown neighborhood, which means that Georgetown will probably benefit in much the same way as the above referenced neighborhoods. It’s also easy to see how South Park, White Center, Skyway/Renton, and Burien could benefit from a more active and vibrant SODO, because if a neighborhood or municipality feels closer to a vibrant center, it is typically more attractive to people (especially younger people).
3. If you think that Seattle would be a better city with more streetcar-based transit to places like Ballard, Fremont, and the U-District, you should vote for McGinn.
As McGinn’s commitment to the SODO arena plan underscores, improved public rail connectivity is an area of emphasis for McGinn. He’s fast-tracked planning on more streetcars, and I think the best way to keep that ball rolling is to give him another four years to develop his vision. Murray, on the other hand, has taken heat from transit advocates for his position on things like sub-area equity. These advocates worry that the policy positions of a Mayor Murray might cost the city of Seattle another grade-separated train line in the near term. For me, that’s a significant concern, because I’ll soon be 50 years old, and I’d love to take a train from Beacon Hill to Ballard before I die.
4. If you think that it’s important to make Seattle more Bicycle-Friendly, you should vote for McGinn.
This is pretty much a no-brainer. I’m not a huge bicycle activist guy myself. But I think making Seattle more bike friendly is a good idea (even if I don’t always agree with every action McGinn has taken on this issue). I can’t imagine that any other candidate will make this issue more of a priority than McGinn, who is a huge bike guy.
5. If you want reform of the Seattle Police Department to be completed expeditiously, you should vote for McGinn.
I know McGinn has mixed reviews on police reform, especially his handling of the negotiations with the Department of Justice. But I’m also not sure that anyone else would be doing a better job. By any objective measure, it’s a huge mess. Did Steinbrueck make any kind of meaningful contribution on this issue during his tenure on the City Council?
Perhaps McGinn could have done more. Perhaps he could have made some different choices. Perhaps he could have worked on having a more cordial working relationship with City Attorney Pete Holmes too. But let’s be real. Holmes would also like to be mayor, and he’d be running right now if he thought he could win. At this point, his best play long-term towards that goal is to win another term as city attorney and help make police reform a reality.
Let’s also be fair to McGinn. He didn’t make all these problems. But they did finally come home to roost during his administration. In the wake of the Viaduct fight and the damage that it did to his popularity right out of the gate, he also wasn’t sitting in the strongest position to deal with this issue. So I’m guessing McGinn had to tread extra carefully with the police department. As a result, I suspect the police department figured that they could rope-a-dope until the end of McGinn’s term and hope that a new mayor (e.g., Burgess) would be more friendly to their interests. Mostly, it seems like that is what has happened.
Now, Burgess is off the table. If McGinn is elected again, he won’t have the Viaduct fight dragging him down. Re-election will also give him more of a mandate, demonstrating that the voters of the Seattle share his vision of the future (including police reform). This will give him more leverage on that issue.
Continuity in both the city attorney’s office the mayor’s office would also likely benefit implementation of the DOJ Settlement. Indeed, even though he has had a tempestuous relationship with the mayor, I hope Holmes is re-elected too. Nobody knows the terms of the DOJ settlement any better than McGinn and Holmes, and they won’t have the excuse that the terms of the settlement didn’t happen on their watch. Therefore, it will be easier to hold them accountable if the reform process stalls.
If we bring a whole new team in now, the first year of the next term will likely be spent getting the new team up to speed, rather than taking concrete actions on reform. Undoubtedly, a new administration will also be tempted to try and re-engineer the reform plan. (I know we’re dealing with a court oversight situation, etc., but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any room for a new administration to try and play new games around these issues. Those who would rather not see reform in this area are no doubt salivating at the thought of a leadership change right now, because that is probably the most effective path to mucking up the reform process.)
6. If you think it is important for the mayor to support the local music community, you should vote for McGinn
This is more of a toss-up for me than some of the other issues. In their elected capacities, neither Steinbrueck nor Murray has a bad reputation vis a vis the music community. (Indeed, Murray has taken a leading role inled the successful effort to eliminate the “Opportunity to Dance Tax” in Olympia, which is a big deal for club owners.) But neither Steinbrueck nor Murray has been the mayor. That’s a whole different deal than being on the city council or in the state legislature. People have been known to change their tune once they sit in that chair, because they have to answer to a lot more constituencies. McGinn is the mayor. The music community helped elect him. It seems like he has had a good track record of repaying that loyalty with support and attention to concerns of the music/club community (e.g., extended bar hours). Absent more compelling evidence than what I’m seeing now, I say that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
7. If you think effective snow removal is important, you should vote for McGinn.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve lived on top a hill my entire 21 years in Seattle. I spent a number of snow storms on top of Capitol Hill. I spent most of the 2008 Christmas blizzard on top of Beacon Hill (and I’ve been through a few more snow storms up on Beacon Hill since then). In addition to allowing the Sonics to skip town without a fight, we all know that Greg Nickels did a thoroughly mediocre job handling snow removal during that 2008 blizzard. Remember the rubber-edged plows he authorized that simply packed the snow down and let in freeze into a thick sheet of ice? That was a good time up on Beacon Hill.
For people who live on a hill (which is what, half of Seattle?), poor snow removal is a big deal, because it is very hard to get into and out of a neighborhood like Beacon Hill if the city has done a poor job plowing. I know, it doesn’t snow that often. But when it does, things get very chaotic in Seattle, even when snow removal is good. When snow removal is bad, things can be downright dangerous and scary.
Snow removal is a basic thing that city government just needs to get right. When it’s done wrong, it says something about a mayor’s ability to lead and execute on small details. That’s probably why Nickels failure on snow removal contribued to his loss in the last mayorial primary. It’s a hot button issue for many voters.
Against this backdrop, we should give McGinn his due. Despite his reputation for being an abstract, macro-level, idealist guy with his head in the clouds, the city’s response on snow removal has been significantly better since he entered office. Who knows? Maybe his East Coast upbringing gave him a better understanding of what good snow removal looks like (my own Midwest upbringing certainly colors my sense of what it looks like to get the job doen right). All I know is that his administration got it right on this most basic city service (and a lot of other ones too).