As it prepares to elect a new mayor, Seattle must consider Mayor Murray’s policies separate from his sex-abuse allegation and history in the Legislature. This won’t be easy.
Ed Murray has done some fine things as a public servant.
Whether he’s been a good mayor is an open question.
Seattle must consider that question by itself, separate from allegations that Murray sexually victimized vulnerable teens decades ago. Neither should this assessment be influenced by Murray’s 18 years as a legislator and leader in legalizing same-sex marriage.
Voters have to separate these issues to objectively discuss Murray’s city policies through the remainder of his term and the election of his successor.
Murray and his supporters aren’t making this easy. When he announced he wouldn’t run again, they characterized his term as a series of tremendous achievements.
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Not everyone agrees.
Especially since Murray’s signature policy — a sweeping rewrite of land-use rules pushed by developers and rental advocates — deeply divided Seattle.
This “HALA” plan, or Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, remains unfinished, bogged down by controversy and appeals.
Whoever becomes mayor must reassess HALA and other Murray policies without pressure to burnish his legacy. It doesn’t diminish his civil-rights work in Olympia, for instance, to say that he poorly managed Seattle’s growth as mayor.
Here’s a partial list of categories to consider. People should decide for themselves what’s working and what’s not and tell mayoral candidates.
Homelessness: One Night Counts found a 48 percent increase in Seattle homeless from 2013 to 2016.
Murray promised to reform inefficient contracts with homeless-service providers. That’s good but costs keep rising.
The mayor wisely hired a consultant who, with King County advisers, developed a plan to house all the region’s unsheltered people.
The plan said $10 million was needed, then costs would decline. Murray secured $12 million, then sought another $275 million. That flopped, so he and King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed raising $469 million with a countywide tax.
Police: Murray hired Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who made great progress reforming the department, as required by a 2012 federal decree. The latest federal report said issues remain but praised the department for substantial, steady improvements over time.
Still, Murray has struggled to finalize a police contract reflecting the reforms.
Upset about crime, several neighborhoods hired private police. Crime rose slightly last year, including business burglaries, rapes, assaults and vehicle theft and prowling.
Management: City spending soared 33 percent since Murray took office and numerous taxes were increased. Seattle’s population grew 9.6 percent, and metro-area employment grew 6 percent from 2013 to 2016.
The cost to build a police precinct nearly doubled under Murray’s watch. Costs for the downtown seawall jumped so high, construction was partly suspended in 2015, six months after Murray said it was on time and budget.
Preschool: A voter-approved plan to spend $58 million on preschool is falling short of its goal of serving 2,000 kids by 2018.
This school year, it was projected to serve 585 kids. That would be 1.75 percent of Seattle children under 5, but after starting slow, the program allowed kids from other cities. Costs were higher than expected; Murray may boost funding with a soda tax.
Transportation: Commute times grew under Murray’s “war on cars.” The street network became less resilient, melting down after highway crashes.
With current and potential employees facing horrible Seattle commutes, Expedia and Amazon recently decided to lease large Bellevue offices.
The share of commutes by bicycle hasn’t grown, but transit use has as Seattle funded new buses and Sound Transit expanded. Still, the total number of Seattleites driving to work increased since 2013.
Murray spent millions buying the failing Pronto bike-rental service, which pointed to ethical lapses by his transportation director. Murray dumped Pronto this year.
Business climate: Amazon’s remarkable downtown expansion was proposed before Murray was elected.
Murray created uncertainty for other sectors, including blue-collar employers whose industrial land Murray is eyeing for apartment developments.
The maritime industry was gobsmacked by Murray’s 2015 attempt to scuttle a Port of Seattle lease with Foss Maritime and Shell. Murray was trounced by a legal challenge arguing the city was imposing unworkable standards threatening ferries, the Alaska fishing fleet and other ships.
Affordability: Since 2013, affordability worsened, despite historic increases in housing construction and density. Rent hikes may ease as new buildings flood the market and growth slows. But reductions in the supply of houses to buy increase costs for those hoping to live rent-free. Tax increases exacerbated affordability problems.
“Affordable” units have been built. But Murray weakened HALA’s “grand bargain” requiring developers to provide a percentage of affordable units in return for more lax building rules.
Terms of this deal were more generous to developers than some similar programs elsewhere. Murray softened them further in South Lake Union, where billionaire Paul Allen has capacity to develop another 4 million square feet.
HALA came with a nasty edge, falsely insinuatingthat the 35.4 percent of Seattle zoned for single-family homes (where half the population lives) perpetuates a legacy of racism and forces minorities out of the city. The real “victims” are investors who can’t build apartments everywhere.
When neighborhood groups pushed back, Murray nuked the neighborhood advisory program.
Unmentioned was the fact that current zoning can accommodate expected growth. But upzones were sought by developers reluctant to build in diverse neighborhoods with capacity. Upzones would enable them to instead squeeze more buildings into richer neighborhoods that are maxing out, Murray’s former planning director confessed.
The end of Murray’s term is Seattle’s opportunity to start fresh and hopefully restore its reputation for livability, civility and cooperative public engagement.