PSBJ: Opinion: Seattle voters should back meaningful progress this November

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Image source: Puget Sound Business Journal

This opinion piece was originally published in the Puget Sound Business Journal on Oct. 16, 2023.

By Jon Scholes – Downtown Seattle Association

Downtown Seattle is on a positive road to recovery thanks to the strong message Seattle voters sent in the November 2021 elections, when they propelled candidates into office who committed to reviving downtown and addressing public safety and homelessness.

The continued revitalization of Seattle’s urban core is on the ballot again this November with seven of nine City Council positions up for election. Voters have the opportunity to further downtown’s renewal and should carefully consider the choices before them.

Under the leadership of Mayor Bruce Harrell, City Attorney Ann Davison and City Councilmember Sara Nelson, Seattle’s made great progress toward renewing downtown. These leaders have been action-oriented and collaborative. They have worked with the community and business leaders to develop and begin implementing a Downtown Activation Plan.

Challenges remain, but meaningful progress is being made.

Violent crime downtown in the first half of 2023 decreased 15% compared to the same period in 2022. Return to office this summer was the highest since before the pandemic. More than 3 million visitors came downtown in July — the largest monthly total since August 2019.

There are more feet on the sidewalks, more retailers and restaurants open and fewer tents with individuals suffering inside. Further, a record 106,000 people now live downtown.

Across most metrics, downtown Seattle is outperforming West Coast peer cities, including Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Seattle voters have an important opportunity to sustain and accelerate this resurgence as they consider candidates for the seven city council seats on the ballot this November. Through previous elections and public opinion polling, voters have clearly signaled they want the recovery of downtown Seattle to be a top priority of all city councilmembers, regardless of what district they represent.

In a May poll commissioned by DSA and conducted by EMC Research, voters overwhelmingly stated that they believe for the city to be healthy, downtown must be healthy. Seattleites — whether they reside in Ballard, Rainier Valley, Belltown or Lake City — uniformly understand that the quality of life in our city (and a robust city tax base) relies upon a downtown that is thriving, accessible, healthy and safe.

Pre-pandemic, downtown Seattle was home to half the city’s jobs and was responsible for a majority of all business taxes generated. Through the adoption of voter-approved tax levies to support transportation, affordable housing and universal preschool, among other programs, Seattleites have made a big bet on a downtown that fires on all cylinders economically.

As has been the practice in previous elections, the DSA sent a questionnaire to all city council candidates on the ballot this year and evaluated them on their responses to a range of issues. The ratings for candidates and their full responses can be viewed on the DSA website.

What’s evident from the evaluation is that just like in the 2021 election, voters have clear choices this November when it comes to candidates’ approaches to downtown, public safety, homelessness and drug use.

There are individuals who support smart and responsible fiscal policies, action to address drug use and tent encampments and focusing city government on downtown recovery. And there are those who don’t share these priorities or a desire to partner with the mayor to advance progress. (Two candidates, councilmembers Tammy Morales in D2 and Maura Costa in D1, chose not to respond to DSA’s questionnaire.)

Local elections matter to the day-to-day functioning of cities, neighborhoods and downtowns. They determine whether parks are safe and accessible, whether there is adequate access to drug treatment services and the timeliness of a response when they dial 911. And downtowns matter to the overall health, brand and economic prosperity of cities.

Voters understand this and deserve a city council that does, too. This November, as you put pen to ballot as a Seattle voter, you have the opportunity to double down for downtown Seattle’s future.