Signing Off

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Seattle View – Signing Off

Eight-ish years ago an outstanding advocate for the power of good government (I’m looking at you, Gerry Johnson) said he suspected my role at Seattle City Council would be as the Australian Shepherd, nipping at the heels of other councilmembers to turn the work in particular directions. I like to think he meant due to the Australian Shepherd’s keen intelligence and focus. It could also be because I’m kind of a mid-size person and need a lot of exercise.

Either way, on Sunday this dog will clock out, something Councilmembers do only at the end of their service. (Otherwise, we’re on 24/7.) I’ve served a little over nine years and it’s been a terrific ride. You receive my e-newsletter because you’ve been involved in some way either directly or simply – and powerfully — by sending an email with your opinion.

This last e-news is a mass thank you card for letting me do this work for you.

We’ve done a lot of good together and, like in any long collaboration, we’ve had a few less great moments.

In Olympia participating in the Committee to End Homelessness Governing Board meeting.

Official Council Portrait.

The Accomplishments

I came into this job looking for ways to boost people’s ability to make it in Seattle. A job can mean confidence, choices, stability and a future. I dove into strengthening the City’s investments in job training. That meant using Seattle Channel to spread the word about Seattle Jobs Initiative and using the budget to boost City apprenticeship slots.

That was a rewarding start, but the biggest wins in this area, in addition to the team effort for raising the minimum wage and requiring paid sick leave, have been the establishment of Bank on Seattle & King County(moving thousands from pay day lenders into no and low cost checking accounts), Career Bridge (intensive job hunt training for formerly incarcerated Black men), and Priority Hire (opening up a pathway to City construction jobs for low income people). By the way, if you’re the guy who sent me the email back in 2006 or 2007 suggesting we adopt the Bank On San Francisco program, thank you. I’ve never been able to find your name. A lot of people have you to thank for getting out of the clutches of payday lenders.

Other accomplishments? Incentive zoning for affordable housing; a reboot of neighborhood-driven neighborhood plan updates; the tunnel (yes, the tunnel); the new South Park Bridge; investing in sidewalk construction nickel by nickel, yard-by-yard, year by year; the update of the multi-family code for better townhouse design; expanded building of mother-in-law units for more housing variety and more income for homeowners; a rental registration and inspection program so apartments are safe and decent for habitation; expanded shelter for homeless adults and youth; modernized rules for houseboats and over-water residences; grasping the opportunity for use-of-force reform, the hiring of new police officers and a new police chief; focused investments to drive down youth violence; a parks levy and a metropolitan parks district; a structurally stronger Pike Place Market; the 2007 affordable housing levy (hello, 2016); the start of universal high quality pre-school; innovative preservation rules for Pike/Pine; a multi-city web portal for business and occupation tax filing (sexier than it sounds); rational rules for food trucks and sidewalk café seating; the first ever City Economic Development Commission (thank you, Richard Conlin, for getting the ball rolling); area-wide rezones for South Lake Union, Roosevelt, South Downtown and Dravus/Interbay; the Seattle Children’s development master plan; banning trans fats, labeling menus with nutrition information and establishing a take-back system for leftover prescription drugs (thank you, nine years on the King County Board of Health); strategic plans for both City Light and Seattle Public Utilities; a plastic bag ban; and Zero Waste (again a tip of the hat to Conlin) to trim down the train of garbage Seattle sends to the landfill every week.

Pitches in the dirt and issues where the pitch hasn’t crossed the plate yet

If I had it to do over again, I would approach the 2007 nightlife safety and regulation debate differently. It turns out focusing our staff and existing rules proved effective.

Our first attempt at ridding the City of plastic bags fell flat after we adopted an overly complicated bag charge scheme. Voters shot the charge down with buckshot paid for by the bag makers.

I’m a fan of giving public financing a chance in Seattle. We lost that round with voters in 2013, but a new approach is on the horizon.

We’ve saved the P-I Globe, but it still needs a new home.

Seattle’s redesigned waterfront will be a work-in-progress for a long time to come. We have the opportunity to make something uniquely Seattle for the whole city to enjoy. That means great democratic spaces, smart design, knowing when too much is too much, and investing in long-term care.

Our commitment to updating neighborhood plans hasn’t been as strong as I would like. The Great Recession got in the way of a lot of things, including an institutional commitment to regular, citizen-driven updates to the urban village and urban center growth plans hatched 1996-2000. We do the outreach better now (thanks to the Planning Outreach & Engagement Liaisons), but the planning is more staff driven than before. Don’t misunderstand me – the staff doing this work are great, but nothing takes the place of neighbors working together to hash out how we grow as a city.

And then there’s the constant striving to create anchors for lower income people to maintain their grip in Seattle. Housing prices continue to rise, threatening our self-image as a place where you can land and start your career, whether as an artist, an engineer, a coder, a teacher or a home care worker. I’m proud of working with Mayor Murray to set the Housing Affordability & Livability Agenda in motion. We’re going to need a range of changes in how we do things to get to a net of 20,000 affordable units in 10 years.

With my departure and then Councilmember Tom Rasmussen’s departure at the end of this year we may not have an openly LGBT member of the Council. I think representing still matters. It matters when we talk about health care, homelessness, family support, bias crimes and much more. It’s been an honor to follow in the footsteps of previous out councilmembers and I’m looking forward to meeting the LGBT candidates of the future.

The Partners

Jesse, Kelsey, LaTonya, Sally.

To the people running for Council seats this fall, particularly for the district seats – remember to look beyond Seattle’s boundaries for context and help. Seattle can’t succeed all by ourselves, no matter how awesome we think we are. Councilmembers don’t always get props for regional work when we’re speaking to groups in Ballard or Lake City or Montlake, but we need our friends in Bellevue, Auburn, Spokane, Vancouver, Gaitsburg and Snohomish if we’re going to get transportation, education and tax policy decisions that help people in our neighborhoods. I’ve had the pleasure of working with great mayors and councilmembers from all over Puget Sound and the State. Some of them are even Republicans.

Deep thanks to the City staff who do the work every day. To the Parks staff I saw at Seward Park this morning picking up litter in the parking lot to the Department of Planning & Development planners to the Department of Neighborhoods District Coordinators to the City Light lineworkers, the firefighters, police officers and the Office of Economic Development small business tactical team – you are the best and do this city proud. Thank you for choosing public service.

If you’re a really big Council affairs geek, you know we’re supported by an amazing group of people who make parliamentary procedure happen, ensure the computers hum happily and operate the logistics of the 80-person Legislative Department.

Within the Legislative Department you have a brain trust. That’s right, it’s not the Councilmembers themselves. There’s a team that does the hard work of research, number crunching, and policy option development. These creatures are The People of Central Staff. They are smart lawyers, economists, urban planners, human services experts and more. They do incredible work and I’ve been lucky to have their unfailingly excellent suggestions, critiques and looks of bafflement when I’ve failed to make sense in asking for assistance on an idea.

LaTonya Brown, Edna Shim, David Yeaworth, Sally Hulsman, Dan Nolte, Molly Moon Neitzel (for a split second before she hit the big time), Janice Bultmann, Jesse Gilliam, Kelsey Beck. These are the people who every day demonstrated smarts and compassion to the people who call, curiosity about concerns and ideas, and excellence in building and executing a plan.

A dozen or so high school interns have passed through the office, working as little as a week or up to a full school quarter. For many, this has been their first experience in an office setting. For others, it’s been a step on a path taking them to college (Dan Lamkin, stop cruising the web and get back to studying) and beyond (hello, future congressman Andrew Lewis).

I have been lucky to win the time of extremely talented people and so have you.


Serving as a Seattle City Councilmember has been an incredible life experience. I’m part of a pretty cool club (if you’re a local government geek). Serving with an open mind, commitment to the cause of great neighborhoods, sometimes humor, and always integrity has been important to me.

Cities are where the important work of addressing the inter-related issues of poverty, climate adaptation and smart growth is happening. This makes your choices in August and November all the more important. Cast your ballots carefully. This is an awesome job and we deserve awesome, caring, curious, thinking councilmembers.

Again, thank you. I’ll be around, now as a Husky instead of an Australian Shepherd. I hope we work together again.

Sally Clark