Councilmember Johnson left office on April 5, 2019.
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June 29th, 2016

Today, media outlets across our region are focusing on homelessness (explore #SeaHomeless). I wanted to highlight the significance of that coordination and add a bit about what our office is doing to help make homelessness rare, brief, and one time.

Recently, I attended a walking tour in the Central District; what began as a discussion with neighbors on the topic of gun violence, zoning changes, and business improvement areas turned into an unanticipated window into the lives of residents in our city experiencing homelessness. As the group walked past an encampment in the Central District, an encampment representative came out, alarmed that we had intentions of asking them to leave. Respecting this response, the walking tour group continued, but I stayed behind and ended up sitting for an hour with encampment residents talking about policies and solutions to ending homelessness.

During my visit, I met a couple who was 9 months and 1 day pregnant – not usually the image most people conjure when they think of homeless individuals. This couple embodied something I’ve seen keenly since stepping into my new role as a Councilmember: that the issue of homelessness so very quickly becomes humanized – every single person has a unique and important story to tell.  This isn’t new of course: Real Change, SKCCH, Facing Homelessness, and dozens of other great organizations have been doing this work for a long time.

Personifying the 4,505 unsheltered people and families found in our 2016 One Night Count (and realizing that is a 19% increase from the previous year) should compel all of us to act. Recognizing that more than 35,000 students in Washington were homeless at some point last year – and nearly 3,000 of those students were from the Seattle School District – demands response. Everyone has the right to basic human decency in our city; whether or not they live in a sanctioned or unsanctioned encampment, people absolutely need to have access to clean water, a place to go to the bathroom, trash pickup, and shelter from the elements (ideally, a roof over their heads). Our homeless students need a place to live so they can be focused on school, not shelter. When faced with these statistics and personal stories one can’t help but feel motivated to take action to create change.

Just a few weeks ago, I joined Michael Ramos of the Church Council of Greater Seattle to convene a group of leaders from the faith organizations in my district (4) to talk about homelessness. Over the course of our conversation, we celebrated the wonderful efforts already happening to serve our community (such as the Elizabeth Gregory Home, Roots, and Teen Feed – just to name a few), and discussed the resources needed to increase efforts. Together, this group set a goal of finding 100 new beds or safe places to sleep in Northeast Seattle before winter of 2016 and have already started mobilizing city and non-profit resources to meet this goal.  We believe we’re already 20% of the way toward that goal in only two weeks.

It’s not nearly enough, but we hope that by demonstrating small successes we can help build a larger public response.  I’m urging all of us to take the state of emergency to heart.  If you can help us in this effort to find additional shelter beds, safe car camping locations, or 24/7 shelter options, please email Geri Morris from my office so we can connect you with city resources and support.

Seattle can be a place where all families can thrive.  We must continue our efforts to increase and preserve affordable housing in our communities.  We must continue to diversify our shelter options to meet the needs of families, couples, people with pets, and more.  We must continue our focus on outcomes, not processes.  Seattle can be a place where all people can live with dignity in safe, healthy, and affordable homes.

I hope you’ll join us in this effort.


Improved ST3 Plan Announced

May 26th, 2016

As a daily transit rider I feel a strong responsibility to ensure that the decisions we make on the Sound Transit board will be in the best interests of our current and future riders. To that end, I am incredibly proud of the work that our staff and board have accomplished with our updated Sound Transit 3 plan. Through rigorous financial analysis from both within the agency and from leading financial experts, we’ve been able to modestly increase the bonding capacity by approximately 8 percent, or $4 billion. We’ve leveraged that bonding capacity to respond to the public request to deliver more projects, and to deliver projects more quickly.

When we asked the public for feedback, we heard many things, including that the draft plan took too long to deliver important projects, especially the added lines to Ballard and West Seattle. And we heard that infill stations like the 130th St. and Graham St. stations needed to be permanent, not provisional, and needed to be delivered faster. With that feedback, here is how we are going to use this $4 billion in bonding capacity to improve upon the Sound Transit 3 draft plan.

First, additional funding allows us to speed up the delivery of new lines to Ballard and West Seattle. The Ballard line, originally scheduled for delivery in 22 years, will now be completed in 19 years. The West Seattle line, originally expected in 17 years, is now scheduled for completion in 14 years. We’re building the Graham St., Boeing Access Road, and 130th St. stations as part of the ST3 plan in year 15.  We’ve also increased funding in early years to help Ballard, Capitol/First Hill, and West Seattle bus riders have more frequent and reliable bus service.

In addition to the projects and timelines released today, Sound Transit’s staff and board are still working on important policy language to be included in the final plan including statements and principles on transit oriented development, project delivery, and station access amongst other issues. In collaboration with my colleagues on the City Council, I worked to pass a resolution earlier this week which outlined Seattle’s project and policy priorities for ST3 and included a commitment from the city of Seattle to continue to work with Sound Transit on ways we can collaborate on permitting, alignment/station location preferences, and project delivery.

I also want to be clear that while the size of this package is increasing from $50 billion to $54 billion, the tax burden is unchanged. This additional funding does not come from new taxes, but rather from improved financial leveraging of Sound Transit’s debt capacity. The recently completed financial work confirmed the feasibility of moving up and modestly increasing the issuance of bonds while remaining fully consistent with the agency’s conservative debt policies, maintaining the agency’s current high ratings and minimizing borrowing costs to taxpayers. The updated results have been verified by three separate financial teams; Sound Transit’s investment banking team, PB Consulting, and Ben Porter & Associates.

Sound Transit 3 will dramatically improve mobility across our region and help us keep up with our rapid population and employment growth. With these critical investments, I believe that the Sound Transit 3 plan represents a huge opportunity to expand access to reliable, high speed transit, while creating tens of thousands of jobs and making our region more affordable. These investments will open doors of opportunity, improve equity, and advance regional connectivity for generations to come.


Let’s Talk About Road Safety

May 16th, 2016

I was upset to learn about the two bicycle-car collisions in District 4 last week – one along NE 65th Street and the other along 20th Ave NE. First and foremost, I wish a quick and healthy recovery to the bike riders who were both transported to Harborview as a result of their respective accidents.  It is clear that critical road safety improvements need to be made quickly across our city to ensure street safety for all – no matter your age, ability, or mode of transportation.

This is now the second serious bike collision on NE 65th Street within one year; with last year’s death and the two current bike riders in critical condition, it serves as a terrible reminder that safety improvements along this arterial are far past due. As I stated last year on the campaign trail after Andy Hulslander’s death, even my young daughters know that this street is fast and dangerous: they argue over who gets to hold my hand as we walk along NE 65th everyday so they can stay as far away from the street as possible. I also mentioned then that we need to fix NE 65th Street before someone else is killed or seriously injured; we have unfortunately missed that mark and simply can’t continue to have tragedy dictate our neighborhood’s safety improvement investments.

My vision to address these safety concerns is to install a fully protected bike lane on 65th Street, along the entire length from Magnuson to Greenlake, connecting projects that already exist or are in development, such as Ravenna Boulevard, Roosevelt Way, the 39th Ave NE Neighborhood Greenway, and Burke Gilman Trail. At the very least, we should install Protected Bike Lanes, from Ravenna to 20th Ave NE along NE 65th Street (as well as the two planned Neighborhood Greenways adjacent to 25th Ave NE that run on 24th Ave NE north of NE 65th Street and on 27th Ave NE south of 65th Street).

Each of these improvements – which could have been a factor in preventing these collisions – can be found in the city’s Bicycle Mater Plan Northeast Sector Map (pdf), but have yet to make it into any revenue dedicated plans such as the “2016 – 2020 Implementation Plan” or the Move Seattle Levy. We need to begin making concrete steps towards Seattle’s vision for a fully connected, safe cycle network and I will work to ensure that we find the funds to move these improvements up the list of priorities.

At this Tuesday’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee meeting, SDOT will be coming in to talk about the Bike Master Plan. I plan on vocalizing my own concerns that were highlighted by the two collisions last week – and would encourage residents from District 4 and across the city to do the same through public testimony.

These incidents bring to the fore the necessary urgency of our actions to make our city streets safer for all users, and we must emphasize investments in critical road safety projects to prevent the next tragedy from occurring.



Why Investing in Bike-Share Matters

March 1st, 2016

I have received many messages from constituents both urging me to refrain from ‘bailing out’ Pronto, as well as to save our city’s bike-share program. And while I want to confirm that I take all communications I receive to heart, I also want to widen the narrow scope through which this issue is being viewed and explain why I am choosing to support Pronto.

Based on the issues Pronto encountered during their startup phase, many have made the assumption that this decision is an easy one – ‘why spend money on a sinking ship?’ However, the fact that is not as widely known is that at the end of the day, Seattle City Council will spend at least $1 million dollars no matter the decision: either we spend $1.4M to acquire Pronto’s assets – and hold significant leverage on what an expansion of bike-share would encompass – OR we let Pronto fail and repay a $1M Federal Grant contingent upon Pronto’s active operations.

Many argue that we shouldn’t subsidize Pronto, but governments at all levels subsidize nearly all other means of transportation, including cars, buses, trains, and airplanes. Others argue that the private market could meet our bike-share needs on its own, as it does in cities like New York, Miami Beach, and San Francisco. Private programs however, are often concentrated in small, tourist-driven geographic areas – meaning city residents, especially those in low-income areas, do not have access. Bike-share and associated infrastructure should not be relegated to an attraction for cycle-inclined tourists; this is an investment to increase the transportation choices this city offers to residents.

With our recent investment in multi-modal infrastructure with the Move Seattle levy, we have the opportunity to sustain a safe, reliable, and healthy mode of transportation to utilize our investments – all for roughly $400K, or what King County Metro spends in about 2.5 hours. Pronto’s revenues from ridership and advertisements are nearly breakeven, and a recent survey of Pronto members indicated a need for more stations, higher station density, and a larger geo-footprint – the exact factors that are seen in the nation’s most successful bike share models. Is $400K a worthy investment to ensure bike-share is a key component of our long-term transportation plans as a city? The answer in my opinion is a definitive yes.

Carbon-based transportation is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and bike-share represents an essential program helping Seattle meet its goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. Investing in Pronto keeps this mode of transportation available to users (a base we feel confident will grow), instills confidence in a Seattle bike share system, and allows future efforts for other Seattle-based bike-share program (public or private) to qualify for critical grants and other investments.

My vision is for Pronto is to become a system that better connects existing transit infrastructure (including light rail stations set to open this month), serves residents outside of the downtown core, offers those who need it a low-income fare, has the opportunity to flatten out the city with the acquisition of electric bikes, and has the potential to connect with ORCA transit cards.

To me, the choice is clear – let’s make a modest investment that will go a long way towards meeting our goals as a city; one with equitable access to environmentally friendly bike infrastructure that serves the transportation needs of residents desperate for options to get out of gridlock.


My personal and professional worlds collide

February 18th, 2016

My urban planning background means I end up having a lot of discussions and strategy sessions with friends and colleagues around built environment, transportation, and density. But it also inspires me to get involved with related considerations such as the recent issue around Seattle Public School capacity. The recent discussion by Seattle Public Schools to annex seven on-site preschool or child care locations to make room for new K-3 homerooms was a great case of my personal and professional worlds colliding. As a dad of future SPS students, a city councilmember, and the chair of the planning committee, I felt we should be engaging with the school district to ensure that we protected as many on-site child care providers as possible, and if we couldn’t find space inside the school, that we should be looking at nearby city and non-profit locations as possible homes for child care providers.

I believe that we need our city’s education system to keep pace with the growing number of people who call Seattle home. We need ensure that each student has a seat in a classroom, and that their families have the option of before or aftercare programs that not only serves the needs of working families, but programs that provide well-rounded opportunities for their children. Seattle’s growth is not projected to slow down any time soon, so ultimately we need long term solutions and better data to help the accuracy of the enrollment projections so that we don’t continue to face capacity issues with farther reaching ramifications.

I know that there are many people who have been working on solving the capacity dilemma but I strongly believe that the right answers can only come from a coordinated, creative, and forward thinking approach. Since our first week in office, my staff and I have been engaged in many conversations to help come up with solutions – we’ve been talking with child care providers about the type of holistic care they want to offer kids in their programs, with the school district about how they build their models to project student enrollment, with members of the School Board about how they want to ensure that families voices are heard throughout the process, and with Seattle’s Department of Education and Early Learning about their commitment to convene the right players to come up with solutions.

And while it is clear to me that this issue is a complex one, it’s the three girls who greet me when I get home from work every day inspire me to be a voice at this table – not to find a band aide of a short term solution, but to help build models that can help achieve smart, coordinated growth for the long term so that the students of Seattle and their families can be confident that their city and their school system will grow proportionally with the neighborhoods around them.

I feel direct ownership of these solutions both because I’m a parent and because many of the technical elements required fix our capacity problems fall under the umbrella of my Planning, Land Use and Zoning committee . We’ve been working on this issue for several weeks now; there’s more to come on that front soon, and we’re very much looking forward to being part of Mayor Murray’s education summit this spring to elevate the capacity discussion and put it in a broader context. Part of this summit will involve community conversations during the month of March and we will share more details once we have them in hopes that you’ll join us in participating. Ultimately, creating a family friendly city has always been at the top of my list and that all starts with having great schools.


Vision & Responsibility

January 5th, 2016

23558801023_4fb792e594_m(Remarks presented as prepared, see Seattle Channel for the full video and remarks as delivered.)

Councilmembers, distinguished guests, friends, and family — I am honored to stand before you as District 4’s first representative and humbled by the trust you’ve placed in my passion for the city of Seattle.

I want to send a heartfelt message of gratitude to everyone who helped me get here and provided guidance along the way, most importantly my wife Katie and our girls, whose collective patience and support knows no bounds.

I ran for office not only to make the process of civic engagement more efficient and enjoyable for my constituents, but to be a voice at the table, helping to steer this city at a crucial juncture in our collective history.

As the fastest growing major city in the country, the problems to solve and the hurdles to overcome are many as we work to keep pace with those who currently call Seattle their home and those who want to call Seattle their home. The time for making two year decisions has passed, and we must commit ourselves, as leaders of this city, to planning for 2065, not 2018.

Recent initiatives such as our HALA recommendations and the Move Seattle levy lay an exceptional foundation for this type of long term planning, and I recognize the responsibility we as leaders of this city share is to balance that strategic visioning with hard and fast implementation.

When I think of the Seattle I want my daughters to enjoy 50 years from now, it inspires my guiding vision and subsequently, the types of decisions I will make over the course of my term.

I envision a transportation system that is efficient, affordable, safe and interconnected. I envision a decreased dependence on vehicles and the celebration of carbon neutrality in the not too distant future.

I envision our neighborhoods and urban villages alike as communities where all have the opportunity to live, work, and play – regardless of socio-economic status. Where better planning, design and architectural innovation ensure new development improves quality of life and enhances the character of all our neighborhoods.

And I envision an education system of the highest caliber, resulting from meaningful dialogue between the city and our school district to coordinate our growth strategies. I envision a system that provides not only a seat for every child in the classroom, but also access to a holistic education, one including the arts, that prepares our students for any path they choose to pursue.

This vision comes with a responsibility to express opinions, propose solutions, to be bold – and a little bit wonky. My wonkiness ultimately stems from my passion for the role that cities play in our national, cultural landscape. In my opinion, the best cities thrive when focused on the quality of life of each and every one if its’ residents, and the efficiency of its infrastructure. Cities work optimally when both the private and the public sectors come together in the spirit of collaboration. Cities don’t necessarily succeed by having the most money in their coffer, but by finding creative solutions that make an impact. And cities have the opportunity to provide leading innovations in the absence of action at the state and federal level.

Seattle is an incredible city built to inspire and engage – and recent examples including December’s vote allowing ride-share drivers to unionize, and our response to homelessness make me very proud to play a part in this city’s future.

Today marks a milestone in Seattle’s history as we commence a council term characterized by district representation. So to conclude, and to recognize this occasion, I’d like to give each of my fellow council members this mug from the University of Washington. Let it represent how honored I am to represent District 4 and to work alongside you all to make Seattle a more livable, equitable, and enjoyable city. Thank you.


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