Election 2009 closeup coverage: Council candidate Mike O’Brien

July 31, 2009 1:58 am
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 |   West Seattle news | West Seattle politics

checkbox.jpgKing County has mailed the ballots for the August 18 primary. WSB continues offering close-up looks at — asking the same 3 West Seattle-specific questions — candidates in races including the three Seattle City Council contests you’ll find on the primary ballot. Previous stories are in the WSB Politics archive.

By Kathy Mulady
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

Mike O’Brien’s background is in finance and economics; his passion is the outdoors and protecting the earth.

The 41-year-old Fremont resident is running for Seattle City Council Position 8 with the hope that he can use his experience as the former chief financial officer of a Seattle law firm to help the city create more housing, better transportation, and develop policies that will make Seattle vibrant economically and environmentally.

“I’m a numbers guy, I’m not a political beast by nature,” he said.

That started to change about nine years ago when O’Brien got involved with the Sierra Club.

“If you really want to make change, then politics is where you start, by trying to elect quality people to do the work,” O’Brien said. “It won’t happen overnight. We have to start with the vision.”

His vision includes significantly reducing carbon emissions from transportation by making Seattle a city where people don’t have to drive as much. That means better public transportation options, more bike-friendly streets, and housing options that are closer to jobs, shopping and entertainment.

“It can work in West Seattle, too,” he said.

As a member of the viaduct stakeholder committee for a year, O’Brien says, he pushed for the lower cost alternative that would add extra lanes in Interstate 5 and more transit connections to and from downtown. No viaduct rebuild. No tunnel.

“The city has yet to release a financial plan for the project. We don’t know which taxes are going to be raised, or what utility rates are going to go up. And no financial controls are in place to monitor revenue or expenditures,” he said.

O’Brien is also interested in preserving Seattle ’s unique neighborhoods.

“Seattle has great neighborhoods, each with a different feel, and everyone thinks their neighborhood is the greatest. I am always happy to go out with friends and see what they think is special about their neighborhood,” he said.

O’Brien’s favorite place in West Seattle is Schmitz Park .

“How great to live in an urban area and only a few paces away you are in the wilderness,” he said.

Q: How do you perceive West Seattle ‘s transportation challenges, and what can be done to solve them?

O’BRIEN: Ultimately, the dream is that a significant number of your needs could be met without having to leave West Seattle. Work, shopping, visiting, recreation can all be done there you won’t have to make so many trips out. And when you do, there will be great transit options.

I would like to study a spur line from the (Sound Transit Link) light rail to West Seattle. Bus Rapid Transit service will begin next year. The roads should be optimized for moving people so that buses get priority and get to move through traffic so people who ride the bus are getting where they need to go faster.

I would also like to see better bike connections. I look at cities around the world where biking is a significant mode of transportation and I think Seattle can do this too. The Water Taxi is another creative alternative. From a transportation perspective, West Seattle isn’t an island, but it is pretty close.

Q: A massive amount of development is planned in West Seattle. How do we keep West Seattle ’s hometown feel, while bringing some jobs here so everyone doesn’t have to commute?

O’BRIEN: Preserving the character of neighborhoods is critical. We have to fight to preserve what makes the neighborhood great – the richness and diversity of the people living there. Houses and buildings are important, but what really defines a neighborhood is the people who live there. I strongly believe that anyone who has a job in Seattle should have an affordable option to live in Seattle . We need to have an adequate supply of housing at every price so that a wide variety of people can afford to live in our neighborhoods.

It doesn’t have to be apartment buildings and condos. Think about a cluster of cottage-style houses that share garden space and maybe a Zip car. Maybe there will be guest house amenities to share when people have visitors from out of town. We need an approach to land use that is flexible and adaptable and that provides the tools that point toward a way of live that has fewer negative environmental impacts without reducing the quality of our lives. Let’s lay out a set of urban design and planning approaches so people don’t have to use a car to get around. Then, when creative business minds have new ideas, we have great tools to test them and see how they work.

Q: The jail issue touches many neighborhoods. What should we do?

O’BRIEN: I don’t support building a new jail. Something is wrong with our system if we feel we need to jail so many people. Let’s make investments in people now so we don’t have to pay for jail space later. There are cost-effective investments we know we could be making, like we do with the family and education levy on early education. Studies show that you can count the number of children who aren’t reading at grade level in third grade and predict how many prison beds you will need in the future. Let’s spend a fraction of what it costs to build a prison bed and instead get these kids reading at grade level. We need to reframe how we look at this issue.

O’Brien’s website is at obrienforseattle.com. Kathy Mulady’s candidate reports will continue here on WSB. Find our archived Politics coverage here, newest to oldest, and once you get your ballot, remember to get it in the mail by August 18.

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