Lobbying, Advocacy, and Making Noise

“You have to make more noise than anybody else, you have to make yourself more obtrusive than anybody else, you have to fill all the papers more than anybody else, in fact you have to be there all the time and see that they do not snow you under, if you are really going to get your reform realized.”

Emmeline Pankhurst
Leader of Women’s Movement for the Right to Vote in the United Kingdom
Image from Wikipedia above is one of many times Pankhurst was dragged to prison


I remember when I first started out in this business (if it can be called that) in my 20s, people older than I would sometimes share stories. Often it was to cool my enthusiasm or to explain why things were the way they were. I always loved a good political story. I remember one my boss told me about the venerable Lorraine Wojahn, one of the first and longest serving women in the legislature, walking up to him when he was a young staffer, annoyed about something and stabbing her finger in his chest. He was terrified. But he learned from the mistake. I find myself having to tell stories as well, both to validate my own credibility (often to myself) and to redirect other people’s energy. Here’s one.

Lobbying and advocacy are very different things. Lobbying is a professional service like hiring a lawyer. Usually, those services are billed hourly or using a retainer. The idea is that a person is busy running their business or their organization. A lobbyist can help make a case on a particular matter or many that will benefit that business or organization.

Advocacy is a bit different. Advocates are often volunteers or lead non-profit organizations. Advocacy is not about a particular issue but about a set of broad principles that impact many people over time. Advocates typically are working for the long haul and trying to make big and lasting changes to a system or sometimes to make an entirely different system. And advocate or advocacy organization can work for years on many issues before the benefits can be achieved.

Lobbyists have a skill and advocates have a mission. There isn’t any value judgement in calling this out any more than saying a plumber fixes pipes and an architect designs houses; we need both. And sometimes, one person can end up doing a little bit of both of these functions, focusing on very narrow technical issues while pushing a broader point.

Back when I was about 25 years old and working for the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA), an organization representing elected school board members, we spotted an alarming section in a huge bill about youth and families called the Becca Bill. The Becca Bill was aimed at trying to fix the juvenile justice system and to give parents and schools more power to intervene when kids were acting out and getting into trouble. The bill was a combination of more and stronger penalties and more social services.

The thing we found was a mandate that school districts with the highest truancy would lose up to 5 percent of what was called complex needs funding. These were dollars that went to mostly urban districts with many immigrant families, kids getting free or reduced lunch, and with a variety of other challenges. This is where I started. I looked at which districts would be hardest hit. One of the districts getting millions in complex needs funding at the time was the Tacoma School District and the Senator representing Tacoma was a well respected African-American legislator, Senator Rosa Franklin. The sponsor of the bill was blustery Senator Jim Hargrove from the Olympic Peninsula. I knew Senator Franklin could take on her fellow Democrat on the Human Services Committee where she was co-chair.

I took my facts and figures to Senator Franklin thinking this will be great. She’ll get it. Urban versus rural and all that. Plus it was a significant amount of money the district might lose. I figured Franklin would just get this notion of penalizing districts for truancy. I was wrong. Franklin, as it turned out, was very unhappy with the Tacoma School District. She wanted something done about truancy and this would get the districts attention. I was stunned. That was my whole plan, play the urban Democrats against the rural ones, the bigger, more complicated school districts against the legislators from rural areas trying to punish the unruly cities with lots of poor kids. It failed.

Well was this truancy thing even a problem? Maybe by showing that the whole truancy thing was a red herring I could get a story in the press pointing out that this was a sledgehammer versus fly type of thing. So I called my colleagues at the Superintendent of Public Instruction. What were the truancy rates or attendance issues in all the districts in the state? Let’s see those numbers. They didn’t exist. Schools didn’t uniformly track attendance or report it aggregate. I had no way of pushing back because we had no clear data. How many kids ditched school in Kent last month? We had no good numbers.

I went to Senator Hargrove. We used to stand outside the doors of the Senate chamber and send in notes. If the Senator felt like it he or she would come out and talk. Hargrove had a weird habit of talking with women outside the doors, but with men like me, he’d take us inside the chamber and we’d sit on one of the big leather couches in the wings. I told the Senator again that this was a bad idea. Didn’t matter. He had the votes and the support of Senator Franklin. OK. How about this, since I looked and we have no data, why don’t we track it first, set a threshold and then attack the actual problem not penalize districts. We had a deal.

I thought I had a win. But my colleagues were pissed. Now schools would have to track attendance. Districts would go bankrupt hiring staff to track all the paperwork and to run around trying to get kids back to school. They all went off to get those numbers together. It was awkward. Among all the education organizations we were the only ones making a deal with the dreaded Senator Hargrove. They testified against our plan. And some argued, because at the end of a string of truancies the prosecutor would file a case against the kid AND the parent, that we’d crash the courts too.

In the end, our compromise passed. The world didn’t end. And twenty years later I have met school people who say it works fine. I even met a person who actually got caught up in the truancy system we proposed. I’m that old.

Now why did I tell you this long boring story. Because I know what I’m doing, and I want you, the reader, to recognize what happened in that story. There was interests aligned at cross purposes. The goal that everyone had was helping prevent a repeat of the circumstances that led to the death of Becca, the young girl the bill was named after. There was lots of money involved and systems that were larger than this one problem. But people, legislators, my colleagues from other education organizations, and others used data to make their cases, and rational arguments. When we failed with one legislator we “worked” another one. If one angle failed, we’d try again. We went to the press. We tried everything.

In today’s discussions of land use and housing it isn’t working like this. Mobs of angry people show up at City Hall and the Council passes legislation. There is no data and there is no rational consideration of arguments. When it came to the Grand Bargain and now Jenny Durkan’s transition, builders and developers who actually build housing aren’t at the table. We’ve been locked out. Imagine the story I told if we were simply told the bill was passing and it didn’t matter what schools thought or how they functioned. That’s why I make noise.

When I write scathing critiques or my language is strident or I sound outraged it isn’t because that’s my default setting. I’d much prefer to work with the system to get a solution for today’s issues and tomorrows opportunities — and for the people who need housing in this town. But that’s not even on the table. What’s shocking about the City Council is that it is homogeneous ideologically but Olympia is hyper partisan and divided between urban and rural. Yet the Council simply doesn’t want to know anything from people that understand and actually build and manage housing. And neither, apparently, does the new Mayor. So I’ll say what I’ve said over and over again, we’ll meet with anyone, anywhere, at anytime to figure out ways to create more housing of all kinds in all parts of the city for all levels of income. All I need is an address and a time. Until then, like Pankhurst, we’ll keep making noise.



On the Radio: So Far, Not So Good for Mayor Elect Durkan

I was on the Dave Ross show last week and KIRO has posted our full almost 20 minute interview. In our talk I cover a lot of our key messages and points about housing in Seattle. If you have the time it is worth a listen or you can read an article digest of the talk too.

The interview was done before Mayor Elect Durkan made her first appointments to her transition. The first three people she’s chosen to look at housing and transportation are Paul Lambros of Plymouth Housing, former County Executive Ron Sims, and Shefali Ranganthan from the Transportation Choices Coalition. I have no problem with Ranganthan, she and her organization have been long time champions of incentivizing options other than driving a single-occupancy vehicle everywhere.

Lambros is a huge red flag, and the choice indicates exactly what I was concerned about: Durkan has bought into the non-profit housing industrial complex. Lambros is a signer of the so called “Grand Bargain,” a deal between big downtown developers and non-profits like Lambros’ to shake down market rate developers to fund his projects, housing that is ringing in at as much as $500,000 per unit.

I had a horrible thought walking home last week: what if Durkan appoints Ron Sims head of the Office of Housing? This would be sort a make work project for a politician with not many places to go (Sims ran for Senate and Governor and lost) and could be rationalized because of Sims’ job at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Who knows, maybe Sims would break out of money cranking routine that housing bureaucracy usually engage in and actually support innovative housing policy in collaboration with the market. Maybe. But that would be going against this whole career as a Democratic politician.

So yes, we do have “hope for new era with Mayor Jenny Durkan,” but so far it doesn’t look all that good.

Photo from the Seattle Times 

Durkan Transition: One Market Rate Developer, Seven Non-Profits, No Landlords

I know. I’ve already been taken to task for being to hard on the new Durkan administration. Not even a week has passed and here I am being critical. But look at the long list of people Durkan has appointed to her transition team. Lots of bright and highly motivated people, so no criticism there. But there is only one market rate developer represented, Vulcan. Vulcan pushed the Grand Bargain and Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (MIZ), a tax that will end up going to non-profit developers. How many non-profit developers are on the team? I counted seven (bolded below). How many landlords? I don’t see anyone in the rental housing business although I might have missed something. Yet lefty critics will point to Vulcan and the Chamber being on her team as proof that Durkan is part of “The Establishment.” I have no choice but to point this out. It isn’t a good start. Room has to be made at this table for people that make housing on the market and who manage it; it’s not about wanting to go to more meetings, its about being fair and collaborative. There is still time.

Adrian Z. Diaz
Lieutenant, Seattle Police Department

Angela Stowell
United Way, Campaign Co-Chair and Co-Founder of Stowell Restaurants

Anne Lee
TeamChild, Executive Director

Asha Mohamed
Women’s Advocacy Center, Co-Founder

Behnaz Nelson
PTE Local 17, Executive Director

Bill Hallerman
Catholic Community Services of King County, Agency Director

Brianna Ishihara
Community Member

Caleb Banta-Green
University of Washington, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, Principal Research Scientist

Charlene Strong
Washington State Human Rights Commission, Chair

Charles Royer
Former Mayor of Seattle

Cherry Cayabyab
Community Activist

Colleen Echohawk
Chief Seattle Club, Executive Director

Dave Gering
Manufacturing Industrial Council, Executive Director

Dave Stewart
Vulcan, Executive Vice President and General Counsel

David Della
Former Seattle City Councilmember

David Rolf
SEIU 775, President

Diane Sosne
SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, President

Eileen Sullivan
Amazon, Senior Manager, U.S. State Public Policy

Eileen V. Quigley
Clean Energy Transition, Director

Emilio Garza
The Washington Bus, Executive Director

Ezra Teshome
Community Leader

Gordon McHenry, Jr.
Solid Ground, President & CEO

Helen Howell
Building Changes, Executive Director

Jan Drago
Former Seattle City Councilmember

Jerry Everard
Capitol Hill and Belltown Business Owner

Jordan Royer
Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, VP for External Affairs, Manufacturing Industrial Council Board Member, and Washington CeaseFire Board Member

Jorge L. Barón
NW Immigrant Rights Project, Executive Director

Juan Cotto
El Centro de la Raza, President of the Board, and Board Member of Sound Mental Health

Kathleen Taylor
ACLU – Washington, Executive Director

Lauren McGowan
United Way, Sr. Director, Ending Homelessness & Poverty

The Honorable Leonard Forsman
The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, President and Suquamish Tribe, Chair

Leonard Smith
Teamsters 117, Director of Organizing & Strategic Campaigns

Linda Di Lello Morton
Greater Seattle Business Association, Board Member, and Terra Plata, Owner

Lisa Daugaard
Public Defender Association, Director

Louise Chernin
Greater Seattle Business Association, President & CEO

Lt. Kenny Stuart
Seattle Fire Fighters Union, IAFF Local 27, President

Marcos Martinez
Casa Latina, Executive Director

Mariko Lockhart
National Coordinator, 100,000 Opportunities Initiative – Demonstration Cities, The Aspen Institute’s Forum for Community Solutions

Martha Kongsgaard
Kongsgaard-Goldman Foundation, President

Marty Hartman
Mary’s Place, Executive Director

Mary Jean Ryan
Community Center for Education Results, Executive Director

Maud Daudon
Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, President & CEO

Mohamed Sheikh Hassan
East African Community Leader

Monisha Harrell
Equal Rights Washington, Chair

Monty Anderson
Seattle Building and Construction Trades Council, Executive Secretary

Nicole Grant
M. L. King County Labor Council, Executive Secretary Treasurer

Norm Rice
Former Mayor of Seattle

Ollie Garrett
Tabor 100, President

Patrice Thomas
Rainier Beach Action Coalition, Strategist

Paul Lambros
Plymouth Housing, Executive Director

Riall Johnson
De-Escalate Washington, Campaign Manager

Ron Sims
Former King County Executive and Former Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development

Roxana Norouzi
OneAmerica, Deputy Director

Ruthann Kurose
Community Leader

Ryan Calo
University of Washington School of Law, Lane Powell and D. Wayne Gittinger Associate Professor

Shefali Ranganathan
Transportation Choices Coalition, Executive Director

Sheila Edwards Lange, Ph.D
Seattle Central College, President

Stephan Blanford
Education Researcher

Taylor Hoang
Ethnic Business Coalition, Executive Director

Thatcher Bailey
Seattle Parks Foundation, President and CEO

Trish Millines Dziko
TAF, Executive Director

The Way Back Machine: How and Why Neighborhood Planning Worked

This is part of a series looking back at 20 years of land use, planning, and housing policy history leading up to the state we’re in today. Last week I looked back at my role as a Neighborhood Development Manager. Pictured above are the two Mayor’s that presided over the decade of planning and implementation from 1989 to 2001. Apologies for the many, many names and stories I can’t mention and for anything I got wrong or misremembered. Later, I might go back and do more deep research on all this including interviews and more. 

I have to emphasize that after I left my job as a Neighborhood Development Manager (NDM) in 2001, I was no longer involved much in neighborhood planning or activism. I did return in 2011 through 2014 when I worked at Sea Mar in South Park, but I wasn’t engaged in the neighborhood very much. My dad, who is car free, lives in my old apartment on Beacon Hill and he uses light rail all the time.

I might have some of these details wrong, and some might even disagree with my assessment of the neighborhood’s role in this. But still, I would assert that had it not been for the neighborhood planning process and all it’s meetings and validation sessions and subsequent codification of the plan, I don’t think the drawbridge would have been a priority. And similarly, I think funds for the station in Beacon Hill might have been snapped up by other neighborhoods for things they wanted around their station.

Here’s the key lessons we can learn from I think.

Engagement, not consensus was the goal – Consensus is a weak broth while engagement is a rich sauce. The local manufacturing businesses, in many ways, would have had an easier time doing their thing in South Park if there were no residents. The residents were annoyed by the noise, smells, and truck traffic created by industry. But everyone wanted to be and was needed at the table to hassle through the discussion.

The neighbors and small local businesses didn’t always agree with each other, and everyone in South Park felt there were improvements needed but differed on how and when and which ones. In Beacon Hill, not everyone wanted the downsides of light rail or was worried about too much density. Even on the bridge, the somewhat unilateral listing of the bridge as historic wasn’t welcome by everyone, but seen as just another complication. But everyone got into the mix.

Total agreement wasn’t the goal, but stubbornly keeping the discussion in front of decision makers was. In some ways, a fixed span mandated and imposed would have eliminated uncertainty, a factor that most people in the neighborhood dreaded. So there were competing and underlying differences that didn’t mean everyone agreed all the time.

Making Lists and Keeping Priorities—Those long lists of items and priorities both as general as “increase affordable housing” to “fix flooding on 14th and Concord,” were critical for success. It meant that if something was on the list, everyone had at least not fought to keep it off the list. People could live with that item even if they didn’t like it; after all they got other things on the list too. The sense that on balance, all the things put into the sauce would make the dish better, even if the ingredients all by themselves were distasteful.

And the list meant that when money was available for a project, even if it was an obscure down list item championed by two people on one block, City staff new where to direct the resources. Neighbors knew which things they could push forward in funding rounds for Cumulative Reserve Funds and neighborhood matching fund projects. Other money looking for a place to go had a magnet that was on the list, and City staff and neighbors could look out the window and see something being crossed off the list.

Finally, the list meant that larger issues like the bridge stayed on top of the priority list and kept the issue alive even as people in federal, state, and local government, and the neighborhood changed

It’s not whether, but how we grow—The thing that set this whole process in the 1990s into motion was to have the debate, hear from all sides, then make a decision. The contention around the adoption of the Growth Management Act in Olympia was real. The contention around the adoption of the Comprehensive Plan mandated by the GMA was real, bitter, and protracted. And, initially, neighborhood planning was not a certainty.

However, there was a baseline assumption then a mandate that growing in the city was better than sprawl. The facts support this. But how do we do that? The question that oriented the 1990s was not about whether growth was a good thing or something that could be avoided or about who it benefitted the most. Those questions were considered and answered affirmatively: growth is good.

Neighborhood involvement and engagement wasn’t a power struggle—In today’s Seattle, the battle over growth is characterized by being a naked power struggle between various interests. In the 1990s neighborhoods weren’t just invited to “outreach meetings” as they are today, they were given resources. But the expectations were clear.

The process in the 1990s simply didn’t have a way of processing or picking up on people who wanted to abolish the process of answering the question, “How do we grow?” If someone showed up to a meeting questioning whether this whole thing was a good idea, they’d be given a set of dots and invited to create a category called, “Do Nothing” in a dot exercise. “Sure, you can put all your dots on that category.”

Nobody would do that. Anyone would put their dots on that thing they wanted to happen, even if it was to avoid that other thing they didn’t want to happen from happening. The process dissolved pointless and divisive arguments about the status quo versus change. It assumed change, and that meant any rational actor would enter the fray to shape that change.

Small wins, bigger confidence—Neighborhood planning was a big risk taken by the City and neighborhoods. What if this whole thing was just a sham? What if, after all the weeks, months, and years of planning, nothing happened? It was a big worry for everyone. But once those small wins came, a curb bulb here, an improvement to sidewalks over there, follow through on a budget item someplace else, people began to see we could make these proposals real. Maybe we wouldn’t get the biggest ones done right away, but the City bureaucracy began to bend toward neighborhood planning. If it was in the plan it came first and department staff knew there was commitment both within their own department and among elected City officials.

Fighting for something, not against something

In the end, neighborhood planning worked so well because it turned people’s natural fear of change into hope for shaping that change. This was true of both neighbors, City staff, private developers, and other entities engaged in changing the built environment or influencing it. It was not perfect. But all the process was really valuable, shifting the energy away from fighting change. Maybe I’m nostalgic, but the number of red herrings – silly arguments about what a new building would do the mating habits of birds, for example – were few and far between. Neighbors would dig in, demanding a project get more attention; but what a difference that is from appealing and litigating and complaining about new housing.

Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning Isn’t Just Bad Economics, It is Bad Design

If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times: trying to make something cheaper by making it more expensive to produce is folly. More specifically, trying to make housing less expensive by adding fees, fines, and inclusionary requirements the way the City’s proposed Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (MIZ) scheme does won’t make housing less expensive. The City’s brand of MIZ called Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) will add costs in the form of fees and additional costs that will make many projects infeasible, and when they do work, it will because the price goes up for renters and home buyers. And in the end, the scheme is illegal. As if all that was not enough, the MHA proposal will cause housing to be less efficient and mandate bad design.

If you take a look at page 63 of the recent document dump by outgoing Mayor Burgess and Councilmember Rob Johnson, you’ll see that a whole bunch of new prescriptive rules impacting housing design are being added to the upzone proposal, creating hassles for architects and developers trying to deliver affordable housing products to needy renters and buyers. Remember how we challenged Councilmember O’Brien on this whole scheme, reminding him that he and his colleagues has creating a bunch of damaging set backs and unit size boosting requirements in the low-rise legislation he pushed through Council? Remember how we knew O’Brien would have to cave and capitulate to angry neighbors (who ironically hate his guts anyway because of his noblise oblige on people living in cars)? And remember how O’Brien got caught up in a mess saying he’d upzone over here, but not so much over there and then backtracked on Facebook?

I sure do.

Here’s how he solved the problem.

The proposed upzones in Neighborhood Commercial (NC) zones will have to:

Ensure light and air access to public rights of way, and compatibility of street facing building scale, as height limits are increased.


Encourage human scaled buildings, and compatibility of in ll development with context.


Encourage design interest and human scale in large scale building facades.

We’ve heard this pablum, garbage language before haven’t we: “light and air” and “human scale” is code for project killing set backs, constraints on the size of buildings and lot coverage, and ultimately, a recipe for bigger and fewer and more expensive apartments and houses.

Garbage in, garbage out.

These upper level setbacks are now prescribed in all zones along with new requirements for material and the ever pointless, “modulation.”  These are for NC zones but the same rules are being applied to low-rise zones (page 41) and commercial zones too (page 63).

Why is all this a problem for design? Minimum standards drive exactly that, the minimum. In order to break out of all these limiting setbacks departures will be needed, and those departures will depend on the already bloated and wasteful design review process, made even worse by Councilmember Johnson this year. Most of these new rules are just repeats of design review guidelines about height bulk & scale anyway.

It is simply breathtaking how 9 people can, without really trying all that hard, set the housing economy on a course for complete disaster. First, screw up things by imposing new, infeasible, inflationary, and illegal exactions on the production of housing desperately needed by people living and moving to the city. Then add a dash of prescriptions that will ensure more constraints and difficulty in designing the new housing being taxed, fined, and feed. The Council and Mayor are making a an already forced sale and purchase of FAR even more onerous. How much worse can this “bargain” get?