Renters' rights redux

Seattle City Council member Judy Nicastro is back at work maintaining her status as Public Enemy No. 1 among Seattle's rental-propertied classes.

"You, too, belong to a profession that people love to hate," landlord Robert Johnson told Nicastro at a recent public hearing. "If your intention is merely to pander for votes, I think that you are on the right track." At least the guy reads Seattle Weekly: His testimony included references to a pair of "flippant" remarks from a six-month-old cover story on Nicastro, in which she called the owners of one building "greedy pigs" and joked that "everybody hates landlords."

The focus of Johnson's ire (beyond Judy herself) is Nicastro's latest legislative proposal, which would allow the city to go after landlords in civil court if they take retaliatory action (ranging from rent increases to eviction) against tenants who report housing code violations or assert other legal rights of tenancy. Currently, city law authorizes only criminal penalties for these same violations.

Nicastro's bill would also aid tenant efforts to organize within individual buildings: It would specifically allow organizers to distribute leaflets, post notices on bulletin boards, and hold meetings in common areas.

Others testifying at the hearing said the law is needed. Marian Hayes told of her landlord's ban on tenant organizing efforts and use of rent increases as retaliation for housing code complaints. "There's a whole lot of tenants that are living in fear of retaliation," agreed Chester Smith.

But landlord Paul Birkeland replied that the new laws would empower vengeful tenants to use the legal system as a harassment tool. "The ordinance you have proposed is a shotgun approach," he says. "It will splatter all of us."

The soccer war

First it was those snippy anarchists taking to the streets; now the yuppified Redmond City Council is busy fightin' the power.

By a 4-3 vote, the Eastside legislative body declared its intention to defy state growth regulators and continue supporting the rezoning of 69 acres of farmland to allow the construction of soccer fields. Governor Gary Locke is expected to send in National Guard troops any day now.

This fight got brewing about six years back when the Lake Washington Youth Soccer Association bought a former dairy farm. The price was right, mainly because the property was located in one of King County's agricultural production districts, enclaves of farmland long designated for protection from all kinds of development. This kept the property's market value artificially low and chased off better-funded potential purchasers. All that remained was for soccer backers to convince local officials to rezone the property for recreational uses.

Which isn't so easy a task. State growth management laws offer special protections for agricultural lands. Farmland preservation advocates have long resisted efforts to pick off agricultural properties one or two at a time. County taxpayers have a stake as well: They paid almost a million bucks to the former owners of this same farm some 14 years ago with the intention of preserving farm uses.

The soccer association now has a powerful need to save face. Having invested a ton of money and time that could have been spent legally developing fields elsewhere, if they can't build, their six-year gamble ends up looking pretty dumb.

Perhaps the Eastside soccer folks will be able to convince legislators to weaken state growth management laws and save this project, but weaker laws could mean more farmland conversions. If so, these soccer fields could prove mighty costly after all.

Donor one-upmanship

When your boss is running for reelection, making that maximum donation is considered standard operating procedure in City Hall. Still, it's interesting to watch the checkbook competition between Paul Schell's three deputy mayors.

For the record, Chuck Clarke and Maud Daudon got their $400 donations in first (Daudon even got her husband to ante up an extra $400). But Tom Byers did them one better by waiting until a recent law increasing the maximum allowed donation by 50 percent took effect and writing his check for $600. (Ever the gent, Byers listed his occupation as "civil servant.")

Greg's got mo' money

Money equals speech, according to the US Supreme Court, and mayoral hopeful Greg Nickels wants everyone to know that he's got a lot to talk about.

As of January 1, the County Council member had raised $73,782 to support his run for mayor, with $62,846 remaining unspent. Incumbent Seattle Mayor Paul Schell had collected just $24,900 during that same period, although he's spent less than $4,000.

On the brighter side, Schell's buddies-turned-enemies on The Seattle Times editorial board recently expressed opposition to a goofy initiative whose provisions include forcing the mayor to spend a half-hour annually in a dunk tank (if only because they'd rather see Schell tossed directly into Puget Sound).

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