Councilmember O'Brien left office on December 31, 2019. This website is for archival purposes only and is no longer updated.

Expanding LEAD to North Seattle

July 3rd, 2018

Less than seven years ago, the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, or LEAD, was little more than a local experiment aimed at breaking the cycle of arrest and incarceration. Initially launched with private foundation funds, the $950,000-a-year, four-year pilot program offered carefully chosen participants individualized alternatives to arrest.

Today, LEAD is one of the City’s ‘crown jewels’ with a proven track record of reducing crime and disorder through targeted outreach and social services to individuals.  Last week, Council’s Human Services, Equitable Development and Renters’ Rights committee heard a briefing on the Council’s intentto extend the hugely successful program to North Seattle with some emphasis on people living inside vehicles.  While LEAD is not specifically a homeless program, many participants experience homelessness and the program increases public safety and health for the whole community.

LEAD provides a tool for Seattle Police officers to refer individuals engaged in low level drug and sex work offenses to an intensive social services intervention program in lieu of arrest and prosecution. The impetus forLEAD spawned in 2005when the Public Defenders Association (PDA) collaborated with the Seattle Police Department, King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the City of Seattle Attorney’s Office to address enforcement of disproportionately high numbers of Black people into incarceration.

Since its inception, community advocates have championed LEAD as a possible alternative to failed “tough on crime” policies plaguing North Seattle. In my district, and in neighboring districts of my colleaguesCouncilmember JohnsonandCouncilmember Juarezwe expect the LEAD expansion in North Seattle will allow police officers to connect people with social services instead of sending them to jail that can ensure more public safety. For people who live in their vehicles and others in North Seattle living in extreme poverty, this public safety program has the potential to reduce recidivism rates for individuals who commit low-level crimes.

The program cuts out the criminal-justice system and assigns voluntary participants to case workers, who can provide immediate help — a safe place to sleep or vehicular assistance to force compliance with parking laws, for instance — and longer-term services such as substance use treatment. Evergreen Treatment Services, a private nonprofit founded in 1973 with treatment facilities in Seattle and Olympia, was awarded the contract to develop and execute intervention plans for LEAD participants. In exchange for their participation, no criminal charges will be filed, even if someone later relapses.

According to the PDA,  there are presently approximately 350 active LEAD participants and an additional 2,000 people at any given time in Seattle who would be appropriate LEAD participants.  PDA has requested funding for a modest increase to allow a launch in 2018 in the North and South or Southwest Precincts, plus a plan to complete expansion over a period of 2-3 years, rather than take LEAD to scale citywide.

Despite widespread support for LEAD in North Seattle, there has been insufficient funding for case management and office space required to offer the program to new referrals in the North Precincts – until now. LEAD’s proven method of helping people in crisis on our streets is critical to our neighborhood stability.  Enthusiasm for LEAD has grown in neighborhoods like mine who are longing for a meaningful response to problems stemming from behavioral health needs and extreme poverty.

Changes to the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, and what it means for your commute

June 26th, 2018

On Monday, the Seattle City Council voted on  legislation that expands the uses of the voter-approved Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD), which has generated approximately $50 million each year to meet demand for transit since 2015.

You may remember voting for Proposition 1, creating the STBD, in 2014. We invested big time in public transportation, and got big results. Now, 64% of Seattle residents are within a 10-minute walk of 10-minute or better transit service, compared to 25 percent two years ago. In District 6, the City’s investments in King County Metro improved weekday peak service on the D Line and 5/5x. We added new morning and evening trips on the 15, 17, 18 and 28 routes. We improved reliability and frequency on the D Line, 5/5x, 17, 18, 28, 40 and 45 routes. About 31 percent of all STBD investments thus far have benefited routes serving Ballard and Crown Hill.

The legislation would do a couple of things:

First, it would allow for STBD dollars to provide free ORCA passes to all Seattle high school students and low-income middle schoolers.

I’m proud of the work my committee has done to expand the Youth ORCA Pilot Program. During the 2017-2018 school year, 3,000 ORCA cards were given to middle and high school students. That equated to 408,000 trips, which saved the average student $206 during the school year.

This new legislation would fund the expansion of ORCA passes to 19,000 students. I believe every young person should have access to transit, regardless of where they live, what their income level is or where they go to school. When students have free access to public transit, they can better attend school, social activities, and seek employment opportunities.

Second, the legislation allows us to use more Seattle Transportation Benefit District dollars to increase the frequency and reliability of our most-used bus routes.

As more people have shifted their commutes to public transit, we’ve seen an increase in the demand for transit service. Routes in Seattle continue to be in high-demand, with many bus aisles overcrowded with standing-only riders. Unfortunately, King County Metro, which services many of Seattle’s routes, aren’t able to add many more buses, and they can’t hire and train new drivers fast enough.

This legislation will address those growing pains. It will allow the city to invest in routes with 65 percent of stops in Seattle city limits, instead of 80 percent. This is important because it enables us to fund more routes coming from outside city limits, which also serves the outer limits of our City. The E Line is an example of a route we can now improve using STBD dollars, when we couldn’t before.

The legislation will also allow STBD dollars to be used for capital investments that help buses move faster. These investments could include transit-only lanes, queue jumps, transit signal priority, and other strategies. Capital investments could also be made to enhance the passenger experience, such as off-board fare payment and stop improvements.

For more information about these changes, you can see the Seattle Department of Transportation’s presentation to the Sustainability and Transportation Committee here.






My Vote on the Employee Hours Tax

June 14th, 2018

Earlier today, I voted to repeal the proposed employee hours tax on Seattle’s top-grossing 3 percent of businesses. While the need hasn’t changed in the months since we started this conversation, it’s clear that we need to come together for the common good of our city.

My vote is not something I take lightly. I truly believe that the next 6 months of this fight would have been incredibly damaging to this City. From what I’ve heard over the last few weeks, it seems that the majority of Seattle residents would prefer to take a step back and “hit the reset button” on this issue.

A contentious ballot measure would have set the City up for a months-long battle that was not clear would be successful, and would have further paralyzed our ability to move forward with any kind of plan.

To be clear, the original proposal did have a plan. The City Council was ready to invest in solutions that have shown the most success in helping folks out of homelessness.

For example, we know that our affordable housing investments are making a difference, and are rigorously scrutinized as seen in the Office of Housing’s 2017 Annual Investments report, where they reported awarding $93.44 million in 2017 to build and preserve 1,450 affordable homes in neighborhoods across Seattle. We also have been implementing the “Pathways Home” recommendations of Barb Poppe, and in last year’s budget revamped our investments with an RFP that focused on extended-hour shelters and permanent supportive housing. Last year, King County saw a 35 percent increase in exits from homelessness over 2016, and the system permanently housed 8,100 households in 2017. The proposed spending plan would have built on those investments and expert recommendations, with the vast majority of funding recommended to go towards housing.

Many people ask: If we have these demonstrated successes, why is homelessness growing? A large factor is our lack of affordable housing. Over the past 7 years, average rents have increased in Seattle by 42 percent, fueled by unprecedented population growth in high wage earners (Rent Jungle, EOI). The lack of affordable housing means that a large rent increase, eviction, the loss of a job, or change in a family situation is more likely to put someone out on the street than in years past.

The 2018 Point in Time Count of Persons Experiencing Homelessness  demonstrates that the vast majority of homeless individuals come from the Seattle/King County area. Approximately 52 percent of survey respondents reported living in Seattle immediately prior to their loss of housing. An additional 31 percent of survey respondents reported living in broader King County, while 11 percent lived in another Washington county prior to their loss of housing.

Given these factors that contribute to our homelessness crisis, the recent McKinsey Report, produced for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, concluded that we need to dramatically increase our investments as a region in affordable housing.

I believed a proposal asking the top-grossing 3 percent of businesses to pay 14 cents an hour for every employee was a sensible down payment on addressing the broader regional homelessness needs in an environment where Washington State does not allow for income or capital gains taxes. And that it was particularly appropriate given that businesses received a 40 percent federal tax cut after the Federal Tax Bill passed in December 2017, which lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

So I call upon the businesses and community leaders who led the charge against the employee hours tax to join in a productive conversation that will help address the concerns we all share.

In this conversation, I hope that they will recognize the efforts the City has made to support business growth, with hundreds of millions of dollars invested over the last few years in improvements to South Lake Union, significant investments in transit service to our job centers, and a city-wide rezoning effort, the need for which is fueled by the growth in the tech sector. Our investments also include a new Denny electricity substation, costing over $200 million, which will deliver highly reliable electricity service that high tech businesses need to operate in our City.

Similar to our partnerships with businesses on all these efforts, I believe large businesses can and should invest in affordable housing as an integral part of our City infrastructure that allows everyone to thrive. If the business community does not agree with investing in the Pathways Home strategy, I look forward to seeing their other ideas, which will perhaps be reflected in the Mayor’s proposed budget this Fall.

My door is always open to anyone who wants to engage in a solutions-oriented approach to this crisis. In the absence of the employee hours tax, I will start immediately working on ideas for alternative revenue streams to fund the necessary investments in housing and homeless services. I also expect the Mayor to play a leadership role in bringing the city together around a shared vision to reduce the crisis. In the meantime, I will continue to work on the policies and programs that I believe will help with the crisis. These policies and programs include: LEAD expansion to the North Precinct; establishing a Community Service Officer Program; ongoing work to support tenants’ rights, among other efforts.

As always, thank you for your continued engagement with my office.

A More Transparent, Efficient, and Equitable Street Vacation Policy

May 25th, 2018

This week, I am proud to share that we passed updated street and alley vacation polices, as well as a resolution defining and recognizing the value of Equitable Development Agreements (EDAs).

Street vacations allow property owners to petition City Council for private use of the public right of way. These decisions permanently change the right-of-way to private use, based on public benefit. Throughout my time on Council, I have wrestled with street and alley vacations, both at a policy level, and a project-by-project level.  I heard the call from many stakeholders that there is a need for a more streamlined, transparent and efficient process, as well as concerns that the process does not adequately address public benefits for a larger public. Over the past few years, I have worked to revise and improve our city’s street and alley vacation policies to help address concerns and better reflect the race and social equity values of our City.

In 2017, I convened a Street Vacation Workgroup that included design commission members, applicant representatives, neighborhood representatives, and social justice advocates. The topics of discussion include process efficiencies, community engagement best practices, and the definition of “public benefit,” to name a few. Out of this process, the work group shared a final report, which highlights key principles including expanding the definition of public benefit to include support for actions that would enhance our race and social equity objectives, require community engagement and considering the broader community beyond those in the immediate vicinity of a vacation, improving predictability, and clarifying the roles of design commission and Council.

Updated Street Vacation Policy  

Based on the recommendations as well as input from city staff across departments, we made some key changes to our policies.  These include:

  • Recognizing the City’s core goals of race and social equity;
  • Recognizing that street vacation impacts may be felt in an area broader than just the immediate neighborhood, and, highlighting the needs of those most at risk of displacement;
  • Requiring an early community outreach process and creating an early City Council forum;
  • Incorporating two new sections on the public trust doctrine and the City’s process for reviewing street vacations;
  • Acknowledging three new public trust functions of the right-of-way: free speech, right to assembly, and land use and urban form;
  • Providing additional guidance regarding analysis of impacts to the public trust functions of street vacations;
  • Establishing different processes depending on whether a project is a complex or a simple street vacation;
  • Clarifying the relationship between required steps in the land use review process and the street vacation review process;
  • Considering on- and off-site public benefits as equivalent;
  • Recognizing the option for additional factors in proposed public benefit package reviews, such an Equitable Development Agreement between the petitioner and community groups; and
  • Allowing for the long-term or permanent commitment to carry out a program as a public benefit.

In addition, we amended and clarified the role of the Seattle Design Commission in the review of vacation requests and established a subcommittee of the Commission tasked with helping evaluate pubic benefits proposals that incorporate non-design elements, such as affordable housing, funding for Equitable Development Initiative programs, or other programmatic efforts.  This subcommittee will include individuals with expertise in affordable housing, worker rights, and equitable community development.

I am hopeful that these new policies will help the Council as well as the Seattle Design Commission and SDOT, as we consider the impacts of vacating public right-of-way, which we are entrusted with, and if we move forward with a possible vacation, what the commensurate benefits should be, and who was at the table to help determine the outcomes.

Equitable Development Agreement Resolution:

Alongside the new street vacation policies, and with the support of community organizations and partners, we also passed a resolution recognizing the value of Equitable Development Agreements.  The resolution outlines how the agreements may be considered when Council evaluates community engagement processes and public benefit packages associated with street vacations and large development projects that are subject to review by the City Council.  An EDA is a third-party agreement between developers and community stakeholders, often referred to as community benefits agreements (CBAs), that are rooted in the self determination of communities who have been historically marginalized in our society or economy.  The resolution encourages the council the evaluate such agreements based on two key questions: Who are the equity stakeholders and what are the equity outcomes proposed?

Who are the equity stakeholders?

The resolution states: Racial and social equity requires centering the people who have been marginalized in decision-making and have been historically harmed by economic inequality, racial discrimination, or social exclusion. EDA stakeholders include organizations or institutions representing: low-income households; people of color, immigrants, refugees, and indigenous people; people experiencing homelessness; seniors and people with disabilities; people who need economic opportunity and face institutional barriers to good jobs, such as racism or sexism; low-wage workers impacted by a project in some way, either as current workers at another location or the future workforce at the project location, especially women and people of color; and LGBTQ people, especially those at risk of displacement from historically queer-friendly neighborhoods. EDAs are entered into by EDA stakeholders.

What are possible equity outcomes on an EDA?

  • Addresses historic and current racial and social injustice;
  • Advances self-determination and control of resources for marginalized groups;
  • Preserves community dignity and culture;
  • Creates economic equity, especially through increased community wealth, local
  • prosperity, and family-supporting jobs;
  • Fosters workplace dignity and democracy;
  • Prevents residential, commercial, and cultural displacement of communities;
  • Preserves and supports small, community-serving, and culturally-relevant businesses;
  • Creates equity outcomes that are proportionate to the scale of private wealth generation for the developer and investors;
  • Considers the role future property owners, tenants, subtenants, operators, contractors, or other entities who occupy the development will have in working towards equitable outcomes identified in the EDA; and
  • Results in a binding agreement between a developer or project owner and EDA stakeholders with lasting benefits.

What is next:

From this point forward, vacation petitions that come through the City will incorporate this new process, and we are hopeful there will be more opportunity for strong community input and equitable development agreements.  I believe we will see a more transparent process, early opportunities for input, a broader range of benefits that can be better tailored to address the most pressing needs – and benefits to developers – more predictable process, clearer timeline for decisions, clearer understanding of what is expected.  I hope these new policies and process can result in more clarity and transparency for all involved, and more equitable outcomes for Seattle.

Response to the Transportation Impacts of the Convention Center

May 4th, 2018

UPDATE 5/7/18 4:30pm:


Today, the Council approved the conditions for the street vacations required for the WSCC addition.   In light of my colleagues’ support for the buses coming out of the tunnel in March, I proposed an alternative amendment that would have created an additional million-dollar transportation mitigation fund, which SDOT could have utilized if bus transit times increased by one minute.  Unfortunately, this additional attempt at mitigation did not pass.  While I continue to have concerns about the transportation impacts, I ultimately voted in support of the street vacations. I am excited for the other community investments the project is making, and the stronger commitments they have made to priority hire and meeting our City’s WMBE goals. I will continue to work to ensure that SDOT is able to implement the needed transportation improvements in advance of next year, to avoid impacts to the transit system as much as possible.

This coming Monday, May 7th, the Council will vote on the street vacation approval for the expansion of the Washington State Convention Center.  The scope and scale of this street vacation and project are larger than any we have seen in downtown Seattle.  And the impacts will be significant.

To get to this stage of the project, significant commitments have been made to invest in local public benefits in exchange for the vacation.  I am grateful for the Community Package Coalition, who thoughtfully negotiated significant investments for affordable housing ($30 million), bike infrastructure, and open space improvements.  Our labor brothers and sisters have worked to ensure quality construction jobs, and union representation for the service workers in the future addition.  And, we have pushed the WSCC to strengthen their commitments to priority hire and contracting with WMBE businesses.

It is now the responsibility of the Council to ensure no additional harm is done to the approximately 262,000 people who commute daily to downtown Seattle.  To accommodate future light rail expansion, the existing transit tunnel will be closed for buses in September of 2019 so that Sound Transit can work on light rail expansion to Northgate in 2021.  These two years are being referred to as the “period of maximum constraint,” when our downtown city streets will be beyond capacity, with 40 additional buses rerouting to surface streets during peak commuter hours.  Relief will come when light rail expansion is opened.  Years of planning have gone into trying to mitigate the impacts on commuters and downtown residents, but we know that this time will be an incredible challenge.

The WSCC wants to remove buses from the tunnel six months earlier, in March 2019.  As part of their land purchase from King County, they negotiated this option, assuming they receive their permits by July 1st.  I am deeply concerned that the impacts of an additional six months of constraint will be a huge burden to everyone who rides transit to and from downtown from across the region.

In the legislation that I brought to Committee for approval of the vacation, I included a condition that would not allow the WSCC to remove the buses from the bus tunnel before the September 2019 deadline needed by Sound Transit. To be clear, this does not stop construction.  The WSCC construction plans already involve working around the buses for some months, and it is not clear that there would be a significant construction delay.

For more context, removing the buses in March 2019 will coincide with the Alaskan Way Viaduct demolition and the SR-99 tunnel opening.  Washington DOT will implement tolling on 99, and while we are not clear on the exact implications, it is estimated that 25% of the traffic will be diverted to downtown streets.  Given the concern, I requested our Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) respond to my questions:  What mitigation can they ensure will be in place by March 2019?  September 2019?  Can they ensure we mitigate the impacts of removing the buses early?

SDOT’s response could not have been clearer. They laid out exactly what mitigation they can confidently expect to accomplish by March 2019, the improvements that are dependent on state and county collaboration, as well as engineering challenges that they need to address. They concluded that they cannot ensure the mitigations will be completed by March 2019. I value SDOTs expertise, thoughtfulness, and honesty in articulating to us what is possible, and what is unlikely to be accomplished.

I believe the Council has the responsibility to ensure that we prioritize the needs of our transit riders, downtown residents, and workers over the convenience of the Convention Center’s construction schedule.

While some of my colleagues have said the outcomes of both scenarios are uncertain, I can guarantee you, there is no uncertainty that an additional six months of increased congestion, slower commutes, and overcapacity streets will be a decision we regret next March.  The consequences will be felt across the city and the region.

Making a Difference for Homelessness and Business + Community Events

April 23rd, 2018

Making a Difference for Homelessness and Business

(The op-ed below is also available at Westside Seattle)

Last year, over 3,400 people exited homelessness in Seattle. Lifting people out of homelessness is hard work that needs resources, compassionate case managers, and investments in temporary shelters and permanent housing. The work that the City and community have already done to address homelessness has impacted the lives of many. People like Alice were able to get back on their feet because of the investments the City has made in outreach, temporary shelter and permanent housing. Alice, a Native American woman, has lived 20 years on the streets of Ballard, her home. After 5 years of connections, outreach workers were able to connect Alice to the City’s sanctioned encampment program and eventually place her in affordable housing. Because of City investments, she now has keys to a Ballard apartment and has since started volunteering at a Ballard homeless services program. We want to help thousands like Alice, but our efforts have plateaued. The crisis continues to worsen due to rising rents, growing income inequality, and defunded mental health and opioid treatment services from the state and federal government. I hear from people all the time: we need more places for people. More tiny homes, more sanctioned encampments, more safe zones for vehicles, and definitely more housing. I couldn’t agree more. The question is: how do we build on our successes, and create a pipeline to shelter and housing, when our revenue options are limited? Last year, then-Councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley and I proposed generating the necessary resources by asking those businesses that had benefited the most from our economic boom to contribute a few cents an hour for each employee to pay for housing, shelter, and services for those left behind. With consultation from the Progressive Revenue Task Force, that proposal has evolved at Council and now includes the following elements:

  • Exempt Seattle’s small and medium-sized businesses, only applying to those with at least $20 million or more annually in taxable gross receipts as measured under the City’s existing Business & Occupation tax;
  • Applies only to the City’s approximately 500 largest businesses (or approximately 3% of Seattle’s business owners);
  • Large businesses included will pay just about a quarter ($0.26) per hour per employee working in Seattle;
  • All nonprofit businesses in Seattle are exempt;
  • The employee hours tax will be replaced by a business payroll tax on January 1, 2021;
  • For those same approximately 500 largest businesses, the replacement business payroll tax will be calculated as 0.7 percent of all payroll related to work done in Seattle.

Seattle’s small businesses, about 97 percent of all businesses in the city, will not be taxed by this proposal. Just the opposite, this proposal does much of what many small businesses want to see in responding to the crisis – it creates more safe and appropriate places for people to go. I know how hard small business owners work to be successful; they are struggling under the same unequal economic forces that have exacerbated the homelessness crisis. Many small business owners take home less income than their workers to stay afloat, and still have to pay income taxes. Because of our unequal tax system, companies making the most revenue do not pay comparable income taxes. Amazon made $5 billion last year and paid zero federal income taxes. And while philanthropic efforts are appreciated, these efforts pale in comparison to a systemic and sustained approach addressing the inequities that our economic boom has created. This proposal is not meant to demonize high-grossing businesses, but rather to create more fairness in the system, and to fund the solutions that will benefit everybody, including businesses of all sizes. Helping people is not a zero-sum game. With this investment, we will jumps

tart a regional and sustained approach to homelessness that will make a difference for our unsheltered population, and our businesses.

North Seattle Town Hall: Progressive Tax on Business

Wednesday, May 2 6pm-8pm
Trinity United Methodist, Ballard 6512 23rd Ave NW, Seattle, Washington 98117

Please join Citywide Councilmembers Teresa (Position 8,) Lorena González (Position 9,) myself, and Progressive Revenue Taskforce Members for this North Seattle Town Hall. Following more than four months of deliberation, Council will be introducing legislation and a companion spending plan resolution outlining the details of a progressive tax on business, which would generate additional revenue necessary to further address homelessness and housing affordability in Seattle. The North Seattle Town Hall will include a presentation on the progressive tax and spending plan proposals as well as an opportunity for community members to provide questions and feedback. For individuals not able to attend the town hall, the event can be viewed on the Seattle Channel the following day. RSVP
here on Facebook for updates.

On the Bike with Mike

Look out for this new section of the newsletter to follow where I am in the community:

Ballard Farmer’s Market
Sunday, April 29
Ballard Avenue NW between Vernon Place and 22nd Avenue

Staff and I will be at the Ballard Farmer’s Market on Sunday, April 29. Come with your questions, concerns, and feedback for us from 10am to 12:30pm. And from 12:30pm to 3pm, there will be a featured District 6 community organization! Stop by and say “hi”.

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda’s Town Hall for the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights

Saturday, May 5  10am-11:30am Greenwood Library Main Meeting Room, 8016 Greenwood Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda will continue the listening series to hear what you would like to see as part of the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights. Their goal is to ensure that the people who take care of our kids as nannies, care for our elders as long-term care providers, and care for our homes as housekeepers, are extended the same common-sense labor protections that most other workers in Seattle have, and that employers can have their needs met, as well.

Join us, I’ll be there to listen as well!

Central Ballard Resident’s Association

May 10 7pm-9pm Merrill Gardens at Ballard 2418 NW 56th St, Seattle, WA 98107

I will be at the monthly general meeting for the Central Ballard Resident’s Association (CBRA). “Central Ballard Residents Association (CBRA) was formed in February of 2012 by Ballard residents to provide a public forum for discussion of community issues and to serve as a voice of Central Ballard with the community, government and other organizations. CBRA advocates on behalf of its members to promote a healthy, livable, walkable, and safe community in the neighborhood’s historic core.” More information can be found 


Budget Update; Budget Investments in Homelessness Response; HOMES Tax Update; Encampment Removals Process; 2018 Investments in Reducing Congestion

December 1st, 2017

Budget Update

Last week, Council approved the City of Seattle’s 2018 budget. This year’s budget process was memorable for the urgent emphasis on our homelessness crisis, rigorous debate, and the bold actions taken by Council to fund solutions. In addition, as Chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee, I am proud to have sponsored a number of budget actions to support better transportation options and infrastructure in our growing City.

The complete list of Council amendments to the budget is available here, and you can find the Mayor’s initial proposed budget here.

Budget Investments in Homelessness Response

The Council passed a number of items that ensured that essential services already in place will not be rolled back, such as funding for emergency shelter serving over 230 survivors of domestic and sexual violence, maintaining existing permanent supportive housing services, ensuring two transitional housing programs for homeless foster youth do not close, sustaining support for a homeless child care program, and continued funding for homeless youth employment programs. In addition, I co-sponsored the following budget proposals that add to our homelessness response:

  • Funding for expansion of Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) to our North Precinct
  • Funding for the creation of a safe consumption site to ensure people have a safe place consume and receive treatment advice from trained nurses
  • Funding for a new homeless youth opportunity center in Capitol Hill
  • Support for tenant outreach and support services
  • Funding for two additional authorized encampments to provide people safe temporary places to be

Update on the HOMES Tax Proposal

Despite our 2018 investments, I believe we need to invest at a much larger scale to make a dent in the homelessness crisis we are facing. The problems around housing and homelessness have continued to grow at a pace faster than we can address due to rising rents, the opioid crisis, an underfunded state mental health system and defunding from the federal government.

Much of the success we’ve seen in transitioning people into housing has been due to additional low-barrier shelter options and permanent housing.  During this year’s budget, now-former Councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley and I sponsored a proposal to create more immediate shelter spaces, as well as long-term affordable housing. We called it the HOMES proposal – Housing, Outreach, and Mass-Entry Shelter. The HOMES proposal would have businesses making more than $5 million in revenue a year pay 5 cents an hour per employee ($100/year for a full-time employee), exempting the smallest 90% of businesses in Seattle, and generating about $24 million in revenue annually. Through the City’s ability to bond against this new revenue in the future, starting in 2018 we could have begun to invest nearly $50 million each year in affordable housing, nearly doubling our Housing Levy.

Instead of passing that ongoing revenue source, last week the Council passed Resolution 31782.  This resolution requires the Council to assemble a task force that will develop recommendations for a dedicated progressive revenue source to support people experiencing or at high-risk for homelessness and to raise no less than $25 million a year. If you’d like to participate in this Progressive Revenue Task Force on Housing and Homelessness, you can apply HERE by Monday, December 4th. This task force will deliver recommendations by February 26, 2018, and the Council intends to take legislative action by March 26, 2018. While it is a little delayed, this commitment to pursue progressive revenue options is a huge win for those who have been waiting for something big and bold to address the city’s civil emergency on homelessness.

Encampment Removals Process

How we get people who are living outdoor into more stable living situations continues to be a struggle.  The city’s Navigation Team (a combination of police officers and outreach workers) has had some success in getting more people into shelter in the past year.  This is in part because we have put more resources into outreach and in part because we had a significant increase in good shelter options for people (Georgetown tiny-house village, Navigation Center and Compass First Hill shelters, and two new sanctioned tent encampments all opened up this year).  It is critical that as we move people experiencing homelessness we give them good shelter options to choose from.

To that end, in this budget cycle, we increased requirements about notice and reporting so that the council and the public has more clarity on when and where sweeps are happening and who is ending up in shelter and who simply moves to the next unsanctioned encampment.  We are also requiring recommendations on how to improve the outcomes in this system.

This system will continue to be a struggle until we get significantly more affordable housing options, continue to add good shelter options, and reduce the number of people entering homelessness.

2018 Investments in Reducing Congestion

I’m proud to support the Seattle Department of Transportation’s continued focus on creating a City where everyone can safely get around by foot, transit, or bike, when possible. These investments are critical to reducing congestion and creating a livable and sustainable city. A couple budget items I sponsored to further these goals include:

  • Funding for outreach and assistance to businesses to establish Pre-Tax Commuter Benefit programs.
    • The IRS allows employers to offer a tax-free transit subsidy up to $255 per employee per month for buses, light rail, ferry, water taxi, and vanpool. However, many businesses do not take advantage of this program due to perceived complexities in establishing and administering this program. Offering transit passes allows employers to save up to 9% on that spending in payroll taxes, and employees save between 25% and 40% on their commute expenses. These benefits also encourage transit use, which helps reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. We hope that with additional outreach and assistance, we can change that perception and get more people commuting by transit to work.
  • Funding to examine issues related to diversion and congestion on local streets due to tolling on SR-99.
    • WSDOT is bringing tolling to Seattle, with the opening of the new State Route 99 tunnel through downtown. That means that we are likely to experience diversion on our streets by people looking to avoid tolls. Early models indicate that this diversion could have a significant negative impact on congestion on city streets and be specifically detrimental to transit and freight travel times. The study would focus on the broader equity implications of congestion pricing in Seattle (particularly who is driving at what times) and explore options to minimize diversion so that transit service continues to operate reliably.

Thanks to all who engaged with our office over the last couple months. If you have further questions or comments about the budget, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office at, or 206-684-8800.

In Community,

Councilmember Mike O'Brien Signature

Councilmember Mike O’Brien

Focusing on Homelessness Solutions that Work

October 24th, 2017

As we close in on the two-year anniversary of our City’s mayor having declared a “civil emergency” around homelessness, Seattle’s housing crisis is still very visible across the city.  It’s obvious that we need more money for immediate fixes – like funding emergency shelters and diversion programs to keep people off the streets and out of jail – as well as long-term solutions like building additional housing units.

While the current Mayor’s budget includes some marginal investments, I’m afraid it sets us up for failure, because it doubles down on sweeps as a solution to the homeless crisis, literally almost doubling the amount we are spending this year to $2 million.

How about we invest in what works instead?

Earlier today Councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley and I vocalized our support for an amendment to the Mayor’s 2018 budget which would effectively tax the top 10% grossing businesses in Seattle to fund more 24-hour homeless shelters, affordable housing, safe lots for people living in their vehicles, and an expansion of the nationally-recognized Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program. Watch my remarks here.

Councilmember Mike O'Brien discussing the HOMES proposal

Our Housing, Outreach, and Mass-Entry Shelter (HOMES) proposal creates immediate shelter and long-term housing options to address this crisis. We know that HOMES won’t fix every factor of homelessness in the city, but it’s a significant investment that supports successful strategies, and will make a difference.

The proposal asks that businesses making more than $5 million in revenue a year pay 5 cents an hour per employee ($100/year for a full-time employee). The proposal will exempt the smallest 90% of businesses in Seattle (those that gross less than $5 million a year) and is expected to generate $24 million annually. Most of that money will be directed to affordable housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness, and could help hundreds of people a year find shelter and housing.

We’ve created a lot of wealth in this City over the past few years, but that wealth has been concentrated at the top, and has exacerbated inequality.  That’s why we invite the businesses that are creating, and benefiting from, this City’s boom to alleviate the unintended consequences of their success, and to contribute to systemic changes in the city that can help all our residents thrive.

The proposal will be discussed over the course of the City’s budget process, with a final vote on the legislation anticipated on Monday, November 20th.

For more information about the HOMES proposal, please visit:



One Step Closer to Lowering Barriers for ADUs – We Want Your Input!

October 2nd, 2017

Housing affordability is one of the biggest issues we face in Seattle today. The City has identified a need for providing a mix of housing types at prices accessible to people at all levels of income for homeowners and renters alike. I believe lowering the barriers to creating accessory dwelling units (ADUs) is an important part of addressing affordability across the city. We’re beginning the environmental review process to analyze potential effects of encouraging more ADUs in Seattle, and we want your input.

Backyard cottages and in-law units can provide more affordable options for housing in neighborhoods where homes are often unaffordable to many people. ADUs are small, secondary dwelling units inside, attached to, or in the rear yard of a single-family house. A detached ADU (DADU), often called a “backyard cottage,” is a separate structure allowed in the rear yard of certain single-family-zoned lots. DADUs can be new structures or created through conversion of an existing structure, like a garage.

Seattle has relatively few backyard cottages right now. In May 2016, the Seattle City Council released a proposal to make it easier for homeowners to build backyard cottages and in-law units in Seattle and increase housing options for Seattle renters.

The initial analysis from the City’s Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) suggests that adding a backyard cottage on just five percent of eligible single-family lots could create about 4,000 new housing units.

Based on a decision from the City’s Hearing Examiner in December 2016, the City is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to review the potential environmental impacts of the proposal, which would:

  • allow an attached ADU and a backyard cottage on the same lot
  • remove the existing off-street parking and owner-occupancy requirements
  • change some development standards that regulate the size and location of backyard cottages

The EIS process includes several opportunities for community members to weigh in on the analysis, and I encourage you to do so. We will kick-off the EIS process with a 30-day scoping comment period beginning on October 2, 2017, and anticipate releasing the Draft EIS in spring 2018 and the Final EIS in summer 2018. The full timeline is available online.

Share your feedback!

The first phase of the EIS process is to determine the scope of the study, and the City wants your input on what to consider and analyze as we explore allowing more ADUs in Seattle’s neighborhoods.  During the scoping phase, you can help determine the alternatives the City will study, potential environmental impacts to consider, and possible measures to avoid or reduce the effects of the proposal.

DEADLINE:  Comments are due by 5:00 p.m. on November 1, 2017. You can share your input in several ways:

For more information, visit

What is an EIS? An EIS is a tool to inform decision making about the positive and negative effects of a proposal. The proposal might be a project, like construction of a new building or road, or a new policy or plan that could affect the environment. Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) requires Environmental Impact Statements so that the public, tribes, and other public agencies can help identify a proposal’s environmental impacts, as well as strategies for reducing or avoiding them. Decision-makers can then approve, modify, or deny the proposal as appropriate.

Seattle Committed to Paris and the Climate

June 22nd, 2017

After President Trump announced his intentions to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord earlier this month, Mayor Murray announced Seattle’s intention to meet or exceed Seattle’s target of the federal Clean Power Plan, joining with dozens of cities and several states in the effort. If the United States Government and Donald Trump aren’t going to take climate change seriously, then cities and states will come together at a sub-national level to step up.

Last week, I sponsored a Resolution that was unanimously adopted by Council to affirm our commitments to the Paris Climate Accord, including the potential to go beyond Seattle’s already ambitious Climate Action Plan, and also calls upon Puget Sound Energy to demonstrate leadership by rejecting fossil fuel infrastructure.

More than half the world’s population lives in urban areas. By 2050 cities will likely be bursting with almost 70% of the people on the planet. We also know that cities account almost 2/3 of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. Cities can also be incubators for the solutions to climate change, and we must act now.

Seattle is no stranger to taking on local issues with regional – or national – significance.  So it makes sense that our city officials continue to tackle climate change head on by reducing pollution, improving aging infrastructure, and making walking, biking, and transit more attractive to residents, no matter who occupies the White House.

We embarked on this mission under Mayor Greg Nickels, when he led our city’s involvement in global agreements like the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and tried to tackle these problems head on.  We continued that tradition last year when many local leaders and I had a chance to go to Paris to be a part of the global climate conference there.  It was incredible to see what cities are doing around the world to make meaningful strides towards ending our dependence on fossil fuels, and many of them were efforts we’re already undertaking in Seattle.

The most important thing we can do locally is to create viable alternatives for people to get around without the use of fossil fuels.  That’s where my passions for expanding transit access and improving bike and pedestrian infrastructure, making land use decisions to create denser cities, and ending our addiction to fossil fuels, come from. I am also firmly committed to our City’s Equity and Environment Initiative, which works to ensure that those most disproportionately experiencing the impacts of climate change – people of color, immigrants, refugees, people with low income and people with limited-English proficiency – can be the leading voices and beneficiaries in our efforts to fight climate change. We will continue and expand these efforts, no matter who occupies the White House.

We must also call upon other local leaders to step up their efforts if we are going to fill the gap in leadership at the federal level. In particular, Puget Sound Energy continues to rely on coal power, and is the owner of a plant that is the 3rd largest carbon polluter in the US. It is time for PSE to walk its talk and retire the entire Colstrip coal plant by 2025 and publicly commit to replacing the plant with 100% renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions.

We also call on state leaders to act on climate-related efforts and deny permits for all new fossil fuel infrastructure projects in Washington, including the proposed nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver, WA.  I’m disappointed, and frankly outraged, that the final permits went through for the world’s largest methanol refinery in Kalama, WA. The expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and the export of fossil fuels significantly undermines the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement; it puts us backwards on the path towards saving the planet; and contradicts Inslee’s previous commitment to fulfill the Paris Climate Accords that he made just a couple weeks ago.

The future of the human race depends on decisions we make in the present, and in response to choices we’ve made in the past. In the absence of federal leadership, we have a moral imperative to take bold action the City, State, and Regional level to fight for our future existence.

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