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Thursday, September 18, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Vision Seattle Veterans Are Gaining A Wider Focus -- Candidates Have Mellowed Considerably Since Group Fought To Put The Brakeson Downtown Development

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

A decade ago Vision Seattle was seen by many as a dangerous organization of anti-growth activists who wanted to restrict development in downtown and the city's neighborhoods.

The thought of having four of its members on the City Council might have been enough to cause Seattle's downtown developers and business establishment to pack up and move to Bellevue.

But that kind of council presence is exactly what could emerge in November if Tuesday's primary-election winners hold on to their leads in the general election. Seven years after Vision Seattle fell apart, some former members are doing exceedingly well with voters. If they win, Vision co-founder Margaret Pageler, already a member of the council, would be joined by Peter Steinbrueck, Nick Licata and former Councilwoman Sherry Harris.

With Tuesday's vote count still not complete, Harris held a slim lead over Richard Conlin, who will challenge her in the general election for Position 2. In Position 3, Steinbrueck received twice as many votes as runner-up Thomas Goldstein, and in Position 6, Licata won half again as many votes as runner-up Aaron Ostrom.

Vision Seattle was founded in 1987, the year Pageler unsuccessfully challenged Dolores Sibonga for her seat on the council. Pageler lost that race, and another two years later. But the group's mantra - that downtown growth should be linked to affordable housing and transportation - was incorporated in city ordinance.

In 1989, in what would be Vision's greatest accomplishment, voters approved the so-called CAP Initiative, which limited the height of downtown office buildings.

At the time, downtown business leaders predicted the limits would lead to the demise of the central business district.

Over the years Vision Seattle's supporters have mellowed with age.

Harris, who got involved in politics because of what traffic congestion was doing to her neighborhood,

as a council member eventually came to support downtown initiatives such as reopening Pine Street to vehicles.

And Steinbrueck, a reliable source of anti-growth rhetoric over the past 10 years, now says Seattle must simply balance the needs of downtown and the neighborhoods.

"The whole neighborhood movement sort of got ahead of itself and burned out," says political consultant Cathy Allen. "There's been a moderating of the definition of what neighborhoods want. They don't so much hate downtown as they want more for themselves."

Allen says Vision Seattle people now and those of a decade ago are entirely different creatures.

"They were revolutionaries in the early days," she says. "There's wrinkles in their skin now. The rhetoric isn't as shrill. In this election people seemed to have rejected the anti-everything mentality."

That's not to say there isn't still a little revolutionary in some of the front-runners. Licata, an insurance agent, could serve as poster boy for liberal Seattle causes over the past two decades. He started one of Seattle's early alternative newspapers, the Seattle Sun, and with his wife and daughter lives in a large communal mansion on Capitol Hill named PRAG House. At various times over the years, PRAG has stood for the Provisional Revolutionary Action Group and Professionals Revolting Against Government.

Either way, the house is testimony to Licata's long-held philosophy that people should "live lightly." The residents set the rules - should the commune, for example, pay for coffee or sports programming on cable? - with one rule firmly fixed: Residents can't benefit from rising property values (the house is now valued at about $1 million) because the property can't be sold.

"We have all the responsibilities of home ownership," says Licata, "The one thing taken away is we can't think of our home as an investment. It's a home. Nobody pays anything when they come or takes anything when they leave."

Licata has found it easy to tap into the same dissatisfaction that helped elect Charlie Chong to the council last year.

"Too much attention has been focused on people as shoppers," says Licata. "The fact is, people live in neighborhoods. The city seems to go through the motions of listening to them. But in some ways we are more effectively serving commuters than we are the people who live in Seattle."

Robert T. Nelson's phone message number is 206-464-2996. His e-mail address is: rnel-new@seatimes.com

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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