Paul's finest hour

Anytime the City Council approves a major piece of city policy, the proceedings resemble a testimonial dinner, with thank-you's distributed in bunches. Last week's approval of the Habitat Conservation Plan for the city-owned Cedar River Watershed was no exception, except the guy who notched the biggest win didn't get to be master of ceremonies.

Mayor Paul Schell deserves a lot of credit for the package the council finally approved. Schell's early decision to favor a no-logging policy for city lands in the watershed produced sufficient momentum to earn a unanimous council endorsement. He also added tweaks to the original plan to speed the decommission of unneeded logging roads, delay the construction of a sockeye hatchery, and increase the size of the watershed education center. Most importantly, Schell backed off on the amount of river flow that the city would reserve for its future water needs. Although some environmental groups and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe still feel the document gives Seattle too much latitude to tap the river's flows, Schell's course correction was enough to mollify most potential opponents.

The revision and subsequent approval of the plan was also a great victory for environmental groups, who expended a great deal of political capital in backing Schell in his 1997 election. "It's really exciting what's happening, and I think Schell has a lot to do with it," says Peter Nelson of the Pacific Crest Biodiversity Project, an early backer of the no-logging policy. "It was his vision that got this through."

Made-for-TV politicians

Every special interest group wants its very own slate of candidates for Seattle City Council, and soon TV viewers may get one, too.

Mike James, the former local anchorman who made a run for the Democratic US Senate nomination in 1994, has quit his job and acknowledges that he's considering a council run. Other names being floated around as possible council contenders are former KING TV commentator Jim Compton and KCTS TV senior producer Enrique Cerna, host of the weekly series True Colors.

Ace political consultant Cathy Allen seems to be the catalyst for this sudden surge of political interest in TV land. (She's even dating one of the possible candidates—Compton.) But TV personalities are tailor-made to be late-entry contenders in the council races: each possesses significant name recognition, a generally positive public image, and (Allen hopes) a good shot at raising campaign money.

Word has it that low-key liberal James is eyeing a race against populist firebrand Charlie Chong. And there's a couple more open-seat races available for the other two TV guys, allowing videophiles to vote a straight ticket.

James showed vote-getting abilities in his 1994 Senate run, finishing second to King County Executive Ron Sims in the Democratic primary by a tally of 162,382 to 138,005. Reporters who covered the race recall James as a nice, eager-to-please fellow running on a typical liberal Democratic platform. "I'm surprised that he's moving from the glory position of senator to the lowly City Council," noted former Seattle Weekly reporter Mike Romano.

Mother-in-law news

The Seattle City Council is edging ever closer to changing the city's regulations regarding mother-in-law apartments (or accessory dwelling units [ADUs], as members of the In Crowd refer to them).

As always, city regulators have taken a middle ground, proposing enough changes to annoy those folks who want the laws kept the same, yet not quite addressing the concerns of the people who asked for the changes in the first place. The most obvious baby-splitting exercise came in the owner-occupancy rules. The current law allows a homeowner to operate an ADU only if he or she is also living on the premises. The proposed changes would waive the owner-occupancy requirement after a homeowner has operated an ADU for five years, but would place the same five-year requirement on subsequent owners of the same property. To some, this means that building an ADU could prove a disadvantage in selling their home, as some 20 percent of the city's single-family homes are operated as rental properties by absentee owners.

Other residents criticize the continued relaxing of ADU standards since they were first drafted in the early 1990s and charge the new code provisions will have adverse effects on borderline single-family neighborhoods with a strong natural demand for rental housing. Many of those testifying against the changes at a recent public hearing were residents of the University Park neighborhood, located just north of the University of Washington campus, an area already awash in rental houses and grandfathered duplexes and apartment buildings. Others argue that packing more people into existing neighborhoods makes the city less family-friendly and that the owner-occupancy requirement protects neighbors. Says Liz Ogden of Laurelhurst, an owner who lives in the house has "an immediate, active interest in who rents these extra units."

Old folks rule!

Here's yet another unusual political statistic taken as gospel by political insiders: the average age of Seattle primary voters this September will be 62 years, falling to the mid-fifties in November's final election.

This alone could explain why those thirty-something candidates who keep running for council haven't done so well. The candidate most annoyed by this news is probably Heidi Wills, who is positioning herself as a young, new-ideas candidate against former council member Charlie Chong, a senior citizen. (Confidential to Heidi: remember to talk about Grandma a lot on the campaign trail.)

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