By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
With four weeks left until the general election – the night the voting ends and the vote-counting begins – a forum in Fauntleroy last night featured the six candidates for the three City Council seats that will be on your ballot.
“This is a unique election,” observed Boots Winterstein from the Westside Interfaith Network (WIN), which co-presented the forum with the League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County, whose Lucy Gaskill-Gaddis served as moderator.
The format put most of the questions to all of the candidates – for City Council District 1, West Seattle/South Park, Lisa Herbold and Shannon Braddock; for at-large (citywide) Position 8, Jon Grant and Tim Burgess; for at-large Position 9, Bill Bradburd and Lorena González.
The sharpest differences were evident between each of the two sets of citywide candidates; in the local race, it was more subtle, with little all-out disagreement. And District 1 is where the forum Q/A began.
(Please note that what you read below are not full transcriptions of the candidates’ entire replies, but rather the key points that we noted while listening, with some direct quoting. No report can ever match seeing/hearing for yourself firsthand.)
A decreasing supply of affordable housing is a factor in the increase in homelessness – a major WIN concern (with member congregations involved in helping homeless people in a variety of ways). Which means would the candidates use to address the lack of affordable housing that leads to homelessness?
BRADDOCK: She said she was drawn to this area because of its economic diversity. And despite its economic growth, “We have definitely seen through the years that not all of our residents are having that opportunity.” She noted that she supports housing with services when needed, and that she is happy to see the mayor and council move forward with the HALA recommendations, including “mandatory inclusionary housing,” plus the “linkage fee” and “an increase in the housing levy as it comes up … When you look at the work that levy does to help lower-income families get financing to help buy affordable units, it’s important for us to do that work.”
HERBOLD: She began with “a couple stats – for every 10 percent a city has in average rent increases, you see a 15 percent increase in homelessness. … Ten years ago more than 50 percent of our work force could afford to live in the city; now it’s 40 percent.” Increasing supply, improving regulations to require developers to include (affordable) housing, tenants’ rights, increasing shelter capacity, are all things she believes could help. She went on to talk about preservation of the current affordable-housing supply, “to dis-incentivize the demolition of it … In the first six months of this year, there were 2,500 units slated for demolition.”
BRADDOCK REBUTTAL: “As a city, we cannot do this work alone … we have to build relationships with other municipalities and at the state level … to perhaps find more low-income, low-interest financing … if someone rents a space affordably, we can find a way for them to get the repairs and maintenance they need,” so they can stay in that housing. “We’re going to really have to build on those relationships to keep moving forward.”
HERBOLD REBUTTAL: “I do agree that these are regional issues .. our 10-year plan to end homelessness was a regional plan.” But now something “must be done differently,” including addressing “the lack of shelter capacity in our system.” She said she’s a “fan of the ‘Housing First’ model” [get people into housing, then address the issues in their lives], but acknowledged it’s costly, so for starters, the matter of people “sleeping on the street … needs to be treated as an emergency.”
How would the “Move Seattle” transportation levy on the November ballot fix any of the (local) traffic issues? (The candidates were also asked if they support it.)
HERBOLD: The levy addresses the traffic problem “as a multi-modal issue.” She reiterated what she’s said before, that she’s voting for it, though she thinks we should “move toward a less-regressive form of taxation.” The levy is important in part, she says, because it represents “a quarter of SDOT’s budget.”
BRADDOCK: She mentioned she’s multi-modal, with her own van plus a lot of bus commuting. She says she supports the levy because “we have got to invest in our infrastructure.” She said she’s “most concerned about the accountability … I want to know that when SDOT is telling me it’s investing” (in transit), “I want to (hold them accountable).” She said that if she’s elected, she wants you to know that you can call her office if you have a concern about this. She mentioned that improvements in RapidRide C and turning Route 120 into an RR line are two things that will help. “But it’s not just about getting better transit service, it’s about better ways to get on and off the West Seattle Bridge.” She mentioned the corridor task force.
HERBOLD REBUTTAL: “Accountability is important but so is equity.” She said she would make sure that investments are made in communities with the greatest needs, not just the greatest density. She wants to take a look at restoring cuts made in transit service before Prop 1 was approved, and added that the city needs to look through its own equity lens when telling the county how to allocate the hours that city taxpayers are paying for.
BRADDOCK REBUTTAL: She points out that she has experience working directly with county-provided transportation services as County Councilmember Joe McDermott‘s chief of staff and that she appreciates that the city recognized that it’s important to invest in some of the lines – like the 120 – that don’t just stay within city limits. “It’s not always just the 9-to-5 commute routes; we need to provide better service to people (with unconventional working hours).”
Solutions for what some perceive as “runaway growth”?
BRADDOCK: We all know it’s growing fast … Developers absolutely need to pay their fair share … but when that fair share is paid, it’s important to know how those dollars are being used. She said she’s glad that some are pursuing citizen education (such as Tuesday night’s WWRHAH meeting listening to a community advocate’s “Land Use 101” presentation). She said she expects a more “holistic” look at community planning, and hopes for resources such as “neighborhood facilitators” to help communities understand where they can weigh in on issues and projects.
HERBOLD: Passage of laws is where a community is truly shaped, not necessarily something at the street level like Design Review, where community members can only “fuss around with the details.” She said that it’s important to look at how land-use rules interact with how the community wants things to work. She pointed out that some of West Seattle’s urban growth areas, such as the West Seattle Junction, are way past what was projected as their growth levels. So it’s important to look at areas that aren’t reaching their growth goals, she mentioned, noting that one locally is not (she didn’t name it, but that’s Westwood-Highland Park). She said that it’s natural for developers to want to keep going to the areas that are meeting their goals and where things seem to be going well.
BRADDOCK REBUTTAL: She says this is a perfect reason why the city decided to transition to city representation by district. “District representation is a really good opportunity to address that issue – all of you will know which office to call .. Not all urban villages are the same; the one on Capitol Hill is not the same as the one in The Junction.”
HERBOLD REBUTTAL: The people she speaks to while doorbelling understand growth is going to happen … but “don’t feel we’re doing a good enough job managing our growth.” So, she said, impact fees and investing in affordable housing are important, in places with the greatest needs for investment, so we have to be sure the decisions we are making” reflect that.
The questioning expanded to add González and Bradburd, same question re: “runaway growth.”
GONZALEZ: She hears a lot about not how to “stop” growth but how to “manage” it. In particular, she hears a lot about how it’s tied to transportation infrastructure – parking difficulties, crowded buses, etc. She says it needs to be examined in a “holistic” way, and it’s important to be “realistic” in tying growth to “issues around transportation, additional space for cars, safe space to walk on, giving people what they need to get around.”
BRADBURD: “If you think growth is out of control, you’re absolutely right … The city has not managed growth very well.” Transportation, schools, parks are all obligations but “the city has walked away from those obligations.” He said the HALA proposals are going to make things worse, except for developers and real-estate investors. The proposal, he said, would lead to 50,000 units of housing in the next 10 years, which would lead to “very rapid growth … and the way they’re going to do that is to upzone our neighborhoods … to increase the chance a developer’s going to buy the house next to you and knock it down and put in three or four townhouses.” He stated, “We don’t need more upzones, we do not need to be fostering and fueling” the (runaway growth).
GONZALEZ REBUTTAL: “We are anticipating an additional influx of 120,000 people into our city in the next 10 years, and I don’t believe that we have enough housing available for these folks. There’s no question that we need to create more housing in the market for these folks, and it cannot only be” housing for high-income people. “So part of the solution is not to squash development entirely, but to manage (it).” Re: upzoning, she said, tying it to mandatory inclusionary zoning has been shown to create “an affordability solution to the housing crisis.”
BRADBURD REBUTTAL: He points out that 100 units will have to have five affordable units under the “mandatory inclusionary zoning,” and that’s not enough – “we have given away the candy store to the developers in HALA.” He contends that more affordable units could be produced in other ways. He declared, “HALA is a bamboozle.”
BURGESS: “I’d much rather be living in a series that’s experiencing growth than a city that’s not experiencing growth,” such as Detroit. “We can’t build a big wall around Seattle -” people want to live here, companies want to offer jobs here. It’s also a “great place to grow old.” He said he agreed with Gonzalez, it’s about managing growth, not stopping it. Without mentioning Bradburd by name, he said that “some here” seemed to be from (what was once dubbed) “Lesser Seattle.” He mentioned that he thinks we’ll get a chance to vote next year on whether to expand light rail to West Seattle (and elsewhere). “Let’s keep moving forward, protect the city for what it is, and grow smartly.”
GRANT: He mentioned that he used to be director of the Tenants’ Union. He said that developers couldn’t have been paying hundreds of millions of dollars in fees “left on the table.” HALA didn’t go far enough, he contends. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable for us to say developers should pay their fair share – and should do more.” The city doesn’t have development-impact fees that could pay for roads, parks, schools, but should, he contended. “Why don’t we have these things?” He alleged that incumbent councilpeople including his opponent take money from developers and maybe that’s why we don’t have those fees.
BURGESS REBUTTAL: He said that HALA has led to a variety of groups “com(ing) together and saying, ‘let’s work in common cause, let’s move the ball foreward and create affordable housing … usually all of these people are in front of us and fighting, never agreeing … so it’s a huge accomplishment that (they) are agreeing and moving forward .. we’re going to create more affordable housing than we could have with the original linkage fee.”
GRANT REBUTTAL: More than half the HALA advisory committee members were from development/real estate and the only recommendations that moved forward were those on which there were concensus. Instead of their “grand bargain,” there should have been one, he said, “with the community.” He said we have district elections because “people are fed up … I think we need to ask for more so that Seattle can be affordable for all.”
Next question, one the D-1 candidates had been asked earlier: How can the “Move Seattle” levy address traffic?
BRADBURD: He’s against it – it’s taxing people for what he thinks developers should be taxed for, and he doesn’t think it addresses a $2 billion backlog of road needs (and that, he said, just involves arterials). “Move Seattle does not begin to scratch the surface on that.” He says the levy lists projects but says ultimately other decisions might be made; he thinks any levy should be very specific, with what it funds and when it’ll be funded. He thinks that if this is rejected, something new could go to voters next year, after consultation with the new district-elected councilmembers.
GONZALEZ: She is in favor of Move Seattle and said that’s mostly for the reasons that Herbold and Braddock meant. She is a West Seattleite and spends a lot of time “on our roads, mostly by car, (sometimes) by bus. … We have to be realistic that getting the infrastructure we need … requires significant investment.” Though it’s a $930 million levy, the “overall cost to the homeowner is small,” she contended. She believes it devotes a fair amount of money to maintenance.
BRADBURD REBUTTAL: “Lorena says it’s going to address maintenance … it does not.” He said there’s a $2 billion maintenance backlog and this would address only a fraction of that. “We need to get developers to pay for this and to get things fixed as quickly as possible and not get the bells and whistles that ‘Move Seattle’ represents.”
GONZALEZ REBUTTAL: “I don’t know about you but I think $400 million is a lot of money … I think that bogging (this) down in process is not an effective solution … I think this is the time right now for making a serious investment in our infrastructure …” She believes it will help get us out of traffic.
Same question, re: “Move Seattle”:
GRANT: He supports it. “But I have to say I’m not very happy that I’m going to be voting for it … when we talk about our priorities we have to talk about how we’re paying for it, and any kind of levy is the most regressive way to address our transportation needs.” He’d like to see “the private sector” paying too. He would bring back the “employee hours tax,” to help pay for transportation infrastructure. The levy is “so much money … because we let things get that bad” after repealing the employee hours tax more than five years ago. He says Burgess led the charge to repeal that. “It’s not just where these investments are made, but who’s paying for them.” He alleges that the current council is “too cozy” with developers and downtown interests. “If you want change and greater equity, you need a change at City Hall.”
BURGESS: He said he had to “correct” Grant because property taxes are “paid by everyone,” the private (business) sector as well as “citizens like you and me.” He said he strongly favors Move Seattle. “The Bridging the Gap Levy – which expires at the end of this year – has been highly successful and has been used (the way the previous council) had said it would be used.” He noted that this levy is a successor to that and will add $12/month – “What’s that, three lattes?” If you think transportation is great now, don’t vote for it; if you don’t, do. He mentioned that Safe Routes to School would benefit from levy dollars: “This is a great investment, and I’m sorry that Mr. Eyman prevailed so we have to keep voting on these things all the time … The “Move Seattle” levy is a wise, solid investment in our city.”
GRANT REBUTTAL: He wanted to point out a difference in world views, that Burgess said it’s “the same” for a homeowner to pay as for a developer to pay. “You’re not on the same ground as some of the biggest corporations in this country, and I think it’s inequitable to pay for these transportation costs solely by levy … I think you have every right to be upset that these costs are being imposed disproportionately on you. … We need a chance at City Hall.”
BURGESS REBUTTAL: “The property tax is applied fairly to everybody … The Move Seattle levy is an investment …” he thinks it’s fair. He also thinks next year’s Sound Transit 3 ballot measure will be a wise investment, too.
FOR POSITIONS 8 AND 9
What’s the role of the at-large member?
GONZALEZ: That’s a question she said the candidates get often – she hopes the district and at-large reps will work together closely “as the specific needs arrive per district … That being said, I think this is a new day for the city council, I think it’s going to be very important for (everyone elected) to have a breadth and depth of experience, (be) able to communicate … even with people they disagree with. … I represent that type of leadership, and I hope you will consider voting for me, as I’ve worked on a lot of different issues around the city.”
BRADBURD: “I’m proud to be one of the people who put together the proposal for district elections … Part of the reason we (did it) was because City Hall was not being responsive to communities … Many of us has been frustrated by how different it is to get City Councilmembers to talk to people …In this city, people have been kept away from information. When people say ‘Bridging the Gap’ has been a huge success – (some of the money) has been diverted to … South Lake Union, where .. some of the buildings haven’t even been built yet, and we have these beautiful streets.” He says neighborhoods “have lost (their) voice” as developers urge rezoning, and set the tone for the HALA recommendations. “I do believe we are a regional area and have to work with all the other parts of the Puget Sound region,” including as it relates to transit.
GONZALEZ REBUTTAL: “I think it’s really important that when voters look at the citywide seats that they look at people who are not just focused on one issue.” Bradburd is focused on land use, she noted, while she has worked on a variety of issues. And, she said, she will work with a strong commitment to equity and social justice.
BRADBURD REBUTTAL: He’s not just about land use – he is supported by people from a variety of disciplines and interests, but his opponent, he said, is supported by business interests. “She may say she supports a lot of people, but we’re all concerned where the money comes from – I will represent you, the people.”
BURGESS: “The at-large councilmember is going to do the same thing district councilmembers do, represent the city, but with an added interest – regional.” He mentioned City Councilmembers’ campaign “Seattle For Washington” and thinks that will continue. He said it’s about forming collaborative relationships with people “to actually get things done, and that’s what I’ve done.” As successes, he listed the preschool program, the gun-violence tax, the Families and Education Levy – “All of those things came down because we sat down with a variety of stakeholders and crafted solutions that would make a difference in people’s lives.” He said his varied endorsements are from people “who know my style.”
GRANT: He ticks off problems including runaway rent increases, police problems, giant gender-pay gap. “There are things we can do to be bold and make progressive change that is lasting … but we have to have a change at City Council to make that happen.” He said it’s important for underrepresented communities like South Park, Georgetown, Lake City to be better represented and that he will work with the district reps for those areas. “That is my worldview – we need a direct connection.” He said it’s important to make changes so Seattle “can be affordable for all.”
BURGESS REBUTTAL: He said that counterparts around the country see Seattle as very progressive, with the minimum wage law, universal preschool, and more: “These are huge progressive wins for us, for the city … I’m proud of the work the council has done. We do have challenges, transportation, affordable housing … you can be our partners (in addressing them).”
GRANT REBUTTAL: He says the labor movement is who was responsible for the minimum wage, NOT the City Council. “If we want to continue partnering with the grass-roots movement on systemic change, we need grass-roots leadership at City Hall. … Why don’t we just cut to the change and elect somebody who holds those values?” rather than having grass-roots people pressuring the politicians, he suggested.
ONE MINUTE FOR CANDIDATES TO SAY ANYTHING THEY WANT
HERBOLD: “I’ve been having some fun with opposition to my candidacy … the Rental Housing Association has been putting a lot of money into the effort to defeat me.” So, she said, she’s been using that group’s verbiage about her potential advocacy for tenants’ rights, as a positive point. “I do think this race is important, we’re at a crossroads in the city, and it’s time for us to put a fine focus on addressing the affordability of the city.”
BRADDOCK: “The residents of District 1 are the deciding factor and I’m proud to be running to represent them.” She detailed her time here, her volunteer work, her time working with the King County Council, and believes it’ll all add up to make her “a very effective representative for you.”
GRANT: “We are electing nine new city councilmembers and I think the district election was a referendum on the middle-of-the-road tinkering we’ve seen at City Hall.” He said police problems, rental affordability, pay equity are all things that can be addressed “if we have strong, bold progressive leadership.”
BURGESS: He described himself as a Seattle native, “We love this city and I love my job, I love getting good things done for the people of Seattle.” He said that even though his opponent is about affordable housing, advocates have endorsed him. “This is a great city and we are electing all nine members of the City Council, which is why we need a steady hand, someone who’s been there and knows how to get things done.”
BRADBURD: “What we need is someone who is willing to speak truth to power.” He says Burgess does not have all affordable-housing developers behind him. He said he’s been calling out corporate deals, and that the council needs someone who will say “no to downtown and no to developers.” He said he is supported by “small, grass-roots, real environmentalists.”
GONZALEZ: “I want to share with you a little bit about my background … I grew up in Central Washington,” the child of undocumented immigrants from Mexico who later naturalized. “I earned my first paycheck at the age of 8 years old,” and put herself through college. “I share that with you because these are experiences that people in our city are currently living … I am so hopeful for our city. I fundamentally believe in opportunity, in equal opportunity. I am backed by a lot of diverse interests and that is a testament to what I bring to this seat. … I can talk to folks I do not agree with.”
How do you plan to address population growth and maintain open spaces?
BRADBURD: The city has plenty of capacity for growth already but developers want to upzone single-family neighborhoods and instead should be building family-size apartments. “I want to be sure that when developers build, they are required to build larger units … instead we have allowed them to build microhousing .. What that kind of housing does is drive up costs.”
BURGESS: He said he led a recent Council effort to have the mayor use eminent domain to take back a beach in North Seattle, and he mentioned the Roosevelt High School condemned-housing-to-park effort. He also mentioned increased funding for parks and open space.
HERBOLD: she said she is aware of activism in the community, especially regarding the surplus substations, and lots of interest in how to use that land. She said she’s been working with people to have the city look at how it values its assets, “a new way that looks at valuing city open space as green infrastructure and putting a value (on that)” so that discussions of the property are looking at “the true value of the property” and asking if there’s a true benefit in keeping it for use later as open space.
No one else wanted to respond (it was optional at this point).
AUDIENCE QUESTION, primarily for Burgess: Why haven’t you implemented the employee hours tax (head tax) again?
BURGESS: The repeal vote, 8-1, was done because businesses told them the tax “was incredibly complicated” and “we wanted to do something for small businesses at the height of the Great Recession.” It brought in $4 or $5 million a year, he said. He wouldn’t support it in its former form but maybe if it were tied to something like “congestion relief.”
GRANT: If the problem was that it was complicated, why wouldn’t they have looked at simplifying it rather than just getting rid of it? He said he favors not just reinstating it but expanding it, to bring in perhaps $30 million a year. He contends that businesses really weren’t complaining that it was complicated, but just didn’t want to pay it.
No one else chose to address the topic.
AUDIENCE QUESTION for Braddock and Herbold: What’s the biggest difference between you and your opponent?
HERBOLD: “A matter of perspective – my background before working for Councilmember Licata was as a community organizer, so (I worked) to bring people together, people who didn’t have so much access.” She mentioned a media story about the City Council candidates in which they were asked to choose as an interview location someplace that mattered to them in the context of their campaign – she took them to the former Linda Manor apartment building in north Gatewood, where rents had been dramatically increased; Braddock, she said, had taken them to the location of her first “starter home.” She said that both choices are valid, but her background has focused on “needs that are often not paid attention to.”
BRADDOCK: “Perspective is a good answer to this question. (That’s where I took the reporter) because that’s what brings a lot of people to this community. I have been very engaged in this community for a long time” – with volunteer groups, her kids’ school’s PTA, with those she works with at Councilmember McDermott’s office. “I’m very excited about the district aspect of this becusae I believe I would be a great representative for this district.”
Others were invited to answer, but chose not to.
The next question relates to something North Seattle-specific, and was posed to Councilmember Burgess – what was the rationale for allowing private housing at Fort Lawton (at Discovery Park in Magnolia)? We’re skipping that one.
Then: Is rent control an effective way to maintain housing affordability – do you support it?
HERBOLD: “I think it’s a matter of definitions – rent control is a particular model that’s been largely phased out in this country, establish(ing) caps. (What came up recently) is going to the state legislature to ask for local control over our rent regulations. … It’s time that we take that control back. We can do things like increase the amount of time required for rent increases … rent stabilizations … an “unconscionable-rent-increase” law … a whole slew of things to do. I think the conversation about rent control has been a distraction.”
BRADDOCK: “I do not support traditional rent control but I’m pleased to see options before us … no one thing is going to fix our affordability crisis … we have to look at it holistically.”
BURGESS: “I think this is a great issue to talk about my approach, my style.” He contended that Councilmembers Licata and Sawant brought forth a measure about “traditional rent control” (sitting next to him, Herbold said, “It wasn’t!”) and there was a committee deadlock. So, he said, he proposed a different form of it, supporting asking the Legislature to allow the city to experiment with different things. “That resolution passed 8-1.”
GRANT: “This misdirection that’s happening … Kshama Sawant does not support rent control that caps rents. So this argument that the resolution was going to cap rents, (was wrong).” (At this point Herbold and Burgess appeared to be discussing what he had said.) Grant said something needs to be done about “price gouging in the city” and that Burgess’s resolution got more support but had “stripped out” language including stats that could have gone to the Legislature “because Tim does not actually support (doing something about the rent increases).”
GONZALEZ: “I agree with what Lisa was saying … we talk about rent control in a very monolithic canned way and I think we do the city a disservice by talking about it that way.” What should be the focus of the discussion, she said, is “economic eviction,” with rents being jacked up, “is there a way for us as a city to have tools to address that (issue), in the way we address other issues like not being paid a living issue, gun tax, etc.” She said cities should “always be fighting” for the right to have all the tools to address issues.
BRADBURD: “I don’t trust the Legislature” … he said that sometimes rents go up because owners are hit with something new that they are required to do, and they are terrified by limits, so he’s been arguing for city bonding capacity to help, in exchange for them to voluntarily stabilize rents.
With that, the forum ended. Three more are planned in West Seattle next week:
-Thursday, October 15th, 6:30 pm, High Point Library (35th SW & SW Raymond)