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SGN exclusive interview: New Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw
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SGN exclusive interview: New Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw has only been in office since January 1, but she comes to city government with a considerable background in administration.

'I have 30-plus years of experience as a lawyer and manager,' she tells SGN.

Bagshaw managed a team of 60 lawyers as Chief of the Civil Division in the King County Prosecutor's Office under Norm Maleng.

In that office, she provided legal advice to Executive Ron Sims, Sheriff Sue Rahr, the County Council, Metro Transit, Harborview Medical Center and other county agencies.

Before that, she was head of King County's Transportation, Natural Resources and Real Property legal team.

Her long stint in public service means she has built relationships with many city political leaders. Retiring City Council member Jan Drago personally approached her to run for the council seat she now holds, and Council member Tim Burgess is an old personal friend.

Arguably, she has far more experience in civil administration than Seattle's new mayor, Mike McGinn, and far better connections with city insiders. Many observers believe that City Council members like Bagshaw will assert their political independence now that veteran political operator Greg Nickels is out of the picture.

Bagshaw is quick to deny any suggestion of future conflict, however.

"I'm pleased as punch by what I've seen from the McGinn administration," she tells SGN. "I've been here less than a month and he's sent five assistants to meet with me. I'm delighted to see that level of cooperation. I'm delighted we're working together."

Friendly communication between the mayor's office and the City Council contrasts with standard operating procedure under Nickels. Many City Council members complained privately that Nickels was uncooperative. Some called him a bully.

"That's a rumor I heard as well," Bagshaw says. "I saw it with the department heads who would not talk to the [City] Council."

McGinn, on the other hand, has impressed Bagshaw with a can-do approach.

"Danny Westneat wrote that article in the [Seattle] Times," she points out, "basically saying the City's Park and Ride policy is silly. The next day McGinn decides to change the policy. No hand-wringing, it's just done."

According to the Seattle Times article (January 9), the City initially prohibited light rail commuter parking in a Safeway parking lot on South Othello Street. Now Safeway has the go-ahead to issue long-term parking permits to commuters.

Is Bagshaw predicting a new era of harmony in city government?

"I'm working towards it," she chuckles.

Bagshaw, who supports the deep bore tunnel option to replace the Alaskan Way viaduct, believes that in spite of McGinn's opposition, the mayor and the Council will avoid impasse over the issue.

"Controversy - that's the nature of the beast," she says philosophically. "I hope we proceed and don't go backwards. After 5 or 10 years of analysis, we still have only three options. We can dig a tunnel, we can repair the existing viaduct, or we can do neither."

"Look, everybody in town has an opinion," she continues. "Our job is to be responsive. But at some point you need to pull the trigger."

"What are we trying to accomplish with the city?" she asks. "I worry about all the little things that make life in this city good."

Asked to name a few of those "little things," Bagshaw ticks off a list of priority issues.

"A lot of people are unemployed," she says. "We have to support businesses so they have jobs to provide&."

"Clean energy. The Council approved an amendment for the UW biotech building. We let them go an extra 17 feet over the height limits. There was a lot of hand-wringing over that&."

"Transportation. Ed Murray is right about 520. The replacement will be very, very complicated. I see it as a system. 520, Mercer, I-90. We need transit-oriented development&."

"Affordable housing. Greg Nickels was right about a lot of things. We do need a faster permitting process&."

"On affordable housing, increasing supply is the name of the game," Bagshaw explains. "But how do we do that?"

"We need to get multi-family units built," she continues. "But do it quickly. Builders should be able to get permits within 90 days. One thing we've been looking at on the Council is the example of Portland. They've got a number of designers people found acceptable, and they permit their buildings."

Portland recently completed an overhaul of its permitting process, resulting in consolidated permitting authority and a faster review process. Solar energy installations are eligible for expedited permitting, as are mural art installations.

"Another option to look at is 'barista housing,'" Bagshaw continues. "They're small studio apartments, but they're affordable."

"In the end, we want to encourage development that's friendly to pedestrians, and bicyclists, and encourages people to use public transit," she says. "And you do that by supporting local businesses, and schools, and neighborhoods."

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