by David Baum – April 29, 2016
Alan Durning’s think tank, the Sightline Institute, received a $400,000 grant in October 2015 to promote Mayor Murray’s Housing and Livability Agenda (HALA). Mr. Durning was a member of the Mayor’s HALA Advisory Committee, and is an outspoken enemy of neighborhood involvement in land-use policy. The two-year grant will enable Sightline “to leverage its communications, communications strategy (i.e. messaging research), and policy research expertise to promote HALA’s agenda in Seattle.” [Source]
The donor is the Open Philanthropy Project, which distributes the personal multi-billion-dollar fortune of Dustin Moskovitz, a co-founder of Facebook, and his wife Cari Tuna. Mr. Moskovitz and Ms. Tuna are interested in “land use reform,” which to them means promoting “more permissive policy.”
The Open Philanthropy Project also funds “Seattle For Everyone,” the coalition of developers, density advocates, and unions which is running the campaign to push HALA legislation through the City Council. In February 2016, the Open Philanthropy Project gave Seattle For Everyone $50,000 in “general support.” [Source]
So this is a sophisticated two-pronged approach: Sightline creates the pro-HALA propaganda, and Seattle For Everyone uses it to run the campaign. Or, as the Open Philanthropy Project puts it:
Sightline is a part of, but does not lead, the coalition mentioned in the previous section, which is planning to work to ensure that the city council enacts the HALA recommendations. Sightline’s proposed work aims to provide intellectual and messaging support for the coalition, but will not replace the coalition’s work of organizing support for the HALA recommendations as they move through the city council. [Source, Section 1.4]
I have to give these people credit. First of all, the Open Philanthropy Project is actually “open,” in a meaningful way. They put their activities and their rationale right up front (which is how I found the information for this post). Second, the other projects of both Open Philanthropy and Sightline appear, at first glance, to be legitimately progressive efforts to preserve the environment and create a sustainable society. Somehow, a narrow, market-based approach to housing policy has captured their attention.
The one thing that sticks in my craw is the dishonesty with which “Seattle For Everyone” portrays itself as a “network of grassroots neighborhood teams.” They ain’t that. They’re a political campaign managed by heavy-gun professional operatives in close coordination (I believe) with the Mayor’s office. They have been deployed specifically to preempt neighborhood opposition to the HALA upzones by creating a false “public” voice to drown out the actual voices of the public. More on this to come.