By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
This week marked the start of Lisa Herbold‘s second year as the first City Councilmember for District 1, West Seattle and South Park – one year since her swearing-in ceremony on January 4, 2016.
As we had done just before she took office, we invited her to sit down with us for an interview.
At the time we talked in December 2015, she had just been declared the winner of a race that had nine candidates on the primary ballot – with even more in the running before that lineup was finalized – and ended with her winning the seat by a 39-vote margin over Shannon Braddock.
Herbold won’t be up for re-election for three years. But we couldn’t resist asking, at the start of our conversation, if she is considering running for the biggest gig on this year’s city ballot.
Herbold’s answer: No, she is definitely not running for mayor. Not even considering it.
The job she has now is challenging enough, she said, calling it “a whirlwind … even knowing what I was getting into, on paper, is not the same as the actual adjustment to the job.”
This, from someone who worked as a city councilmember’s assistant for more than a decade and a half before taking a seat in the chambers for herself.
Over the ensuing hour-plus, we talked about highlights and lowlights of year one, and a bit about year two.
It happened in November: Herbold’s proudest of “convincing a majority of Council colleagues to join me in supporting the $29 million housing bond in the face of opposition from the public, mayor, budget director, Councilmember Burgess [heading the Budget Committee] … That really showed the promise of this Council, being independent, not just a couple people being independent, but having a willingness to be independent in its voice.”
For those who wondered why, with the $290 million housing levy approved last year, another $29 million was needed: “It’s the city’s first use of its bond authority for housing since the early ’80s. We use the bond authority for all kinds of (other) things … for me, the idea is that if the city is less rigid in its willingness to use bond authority, we might be … more able to have additional flexibility in paying for housing projects that might not fit the normal levy mold, projects with gap financing, bridge loans … non-traditional projects.”
So what might those projects be? Herbold says that’s under discussion right now. Under consideration are “projects that received funding last year through the housing levy that might still have gaps,” and “ones that applied this year but didn’t receive funding. We don’t anticipate spending the full $29 million in one shot.”
Asked what that would be, Herbold lists two “campaign commitments, things I said I was going to do” that she had expected would be accomplished in her first year – both mentioned in our December 2015 interview, in fact – but aren’t done yet: An observer’s-rights bill, which was introduced and heard in committee and which she hopes “to finish up early this year,” and developer impact fees. “Members of the public still ask about them” regularly, she said. That, too, is still a work in progress: “There’s some work the executive [mayor] has committed to do, there’s a consultant report from last year …” and other councilmembers have to get on board with the concept – particularly the councilmembers chairing the committees that would have to take it up, Rob Johnson or Bruce Harrell.
While impact fees could be charged to raise money for parks, transportation, or schools, Herbold says, the last is what she sees as most likely: “School-capacity issues are huge for our city.” Even then, she observes, with much of this year expected to be devoted to the Mandatory Housing Affordability fees from HALA, “the political reality (is) … I don’t know much appetite everyone has for discussing additional developer fees when we haven’t finished (with) developer fees for housing.” She says she’s at least hoping to keep the impact fees “moving – at least get a briefing and identify some next steps and dates.”
WHAT ABOUT CRIME/PUBLIC SAFETY?
Since that hadn’t come up in her answers to the first few questions, we asked. For the big picture, Herbold mentioned sitting on the committee “where we approved funding to hire 114 new officers (and) a new business-license fee to pay for them. This is all toward implementing the mayor’s plan to hire some new officers.” On a district level, “a lot of what I’ve been doing has been focused on public-safety issues.” In particular, she mentions South Park (you might recall the citizen-led tour we covered last month).
In West Seattle, she mentions working to get speed bumps installed along Beach Drive by Constellation Park, to calm speeding and discourage racing.
And back to a citywide issue, the return of community-service officers (explained in this budget-season update on her website) “will be important,” Herbold said, to “free up police officers’ time” dealing with non-crime issues. “It’s a step toward (helping) uniformed officers meet targets for 911 responses.” She hopes this also will help with the fact that “a lot of (public safety) issues are interrelated with a lot of social issues … when you have crime in a neighborhood that is the result of issues like drugs, alcohol, mental health, we don’t have the ability to address these issues – drugs and mental health are not in the city’s purview.”
Which brought us to another huge issue.
WILL THE CITY MAKE PROGRESS IN DEALING WITH HOMELESSNESS?
Herbold pointed out that she makes “a distinction between homeless and unsheltered.” The former encompasses an estimated 8,000 people, but her immediate concern is the latter. “Everybody should have a home, but not everybody who doesn’t have a home has emergency survival needs … I would like to see a real dent in the number of people sleeping outside. I think we can do that. There are some things in Pathways Home [the mayor’s plan] that are promising, (working) toward getting more people inside.”
One of the mayor’s commitments, opening a Navigation Center, is missing its end-of-year deadline. Herbold brought it up and said the “siting challenge” that’s been cited – finding a location – is “not surprising”; the city is looking for a building that already exists, rather than someplace to build. She thinks its low-barrier, open-24/7 model “will help a lot of people.”
Many existing shelters have barriers to eligibility and Herbold believes that lowering those barriers would be helpful too. As for the plan for the Myers Way Parcels encampment to shift to city-sanctioned, she said neighbors were actually concerned about its barriers, for fear that will keep more people in the unsanctioned spaces outside it, so it’s under consideration to be staffed rather than continuing as “self-managed,” though there was no final decision by the time of our conversation.
IS SHE ANTI-BUSINESS?
Some business owners have labeled Herbold bad for business. Concerns have included legislation such as “secure scheduling,” which passed last year. She points out that it affects large companies, not small independent business owners. There’s also been concern about the increase in the cost of city business license fees/taxes, which, as mentioned above, is helping cover the cost of more police officers. Herbold says it was the mayor’s proposal, developed with the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and that she actually worked to amend it “to not have an increase for all businesses” and to “create a whole new tier for the $5 million-plus businesses … enough to hold off (increases for) the small businesses. The fee had not been increased in some time.”
While we were finishing this story, Herbold forwarded e-mail she had sent to concerned constituents two weeks ago, including:
… I support hiring additional officers. However, I was concerned that the Mayor’s original funding proposal for the officers through the business license fee would increase the fee for all 75,000 license holders. A key priority of mine was to ensure that no fee increases took place for smaller businesses with less than $500,000 in estimated annual revenue.
The Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods and Finance Committee, chaired by Councilmember Burgess, who sponsored the legislation at the Council, met twice in July to consider the legislation. The committee revised the Mayor’s proposal to eliminate the fee increase for businesses license holders with less than $500,000 revenue, which represents 85% of all business license holders in the City.
The committee accomplished this by creating a brand new $2,000 tier for businesses with over $5 million in revenues beginning in 2018, by:
· Eliminating the Mayor’s proposed increase for businesses with under $20,000 in revenue and maintaining the annual fee of $55
· Eliminating the Mayor’s proposed increase for businesses with $20,000 to $100,000 in revenue and maintaining the annual fee of $100
· Eliminating the Mayor’s proposed increase for businesses with between $100,000 and $500,000 in revenue and maintaining the annual fee of $110
The Mayor proposed increasing the fee for businesses with revenue from $500,000 to $2 million from $110 to $320. The Council committee voted to increase this to $480, impacting 9% of license holders in Seattle with revenues from $500,000 to $2 million annually.
Under the proposal adopted by the Council, nearly 50% of the tax revenue will now come from businesses with over $2 million in revenue. Under the Mayor’s proposal, only 21% would derive from those businesses. This approach seems much more fair to small businesses.
This started looming particularly large last October, when the city quietly released draft maps showing proposed rezoning, mostly for “urban villages” around the city, including five in District 1 (The Junction, Admiral, Morgan Junction, Westwood-Highland Park, South Park). No explanatory meetings were scheduled; some community groups requested briefings, and two community advocates who have long focused on land use even organized one for anyone in West Seattle who was interested. The city included the rezoning proposal on a list of topics for what was considered at best a not-very-helpful “open house” in early December, with its date and location chosen by city staffers despite community leaders’ objections, and an overflow location chosen, then changed, at the last minute.
While Herbold had nothing to do with organizing it, she had one observation about the process: “I don’t think people understand how early in the process we are and that’s creating a lot of confusion.” Councilmember Rob Johnson‘s PLUZ committee is the lead on council consideration, and she says he told her the council likely won’t wind up voting on a final rezoning proposal until early 2018. The Environmental Impact Statement process also will take up at least part of this year, with issuance of a draft version, then a comment period, then revisions and a final version.
Some community concerns have focused on developers/builders having the choice to contribute to a city fund instead of including the “affordable housing” in their projects, potentially resulting in some areas getting a lot more housing with very little of it “affordable.” Herbold noted that the goal was for half of it to be built in the resulting projects and half to result from the fees. “The council could have been hard-nosed and said we want it all on-site,” she said, but the fee dollars will actually go further in leveraging city dollars. And, she said, “Our policies direct us to spend the fee in the same neighborhood where it was generated. If that’s not the (eventual) outcome, we’ll have to go back and (tinker) with the regulations.”
Displacement remains a concern of hers; asked about it, she brings up the University District upzoning process that’s under way now, ahead of the rest of the city, saying she will be advocating for a higher affordable-housing requirement to offset what will be lost in that area. “I hope we can do that for the citywide upzoning, too. … We need to be looking at all the issues with our eyes open.”
NEIGHBORHOOD DISTRICT COUNCILS
Though six other councilmembers represent geographic districts, Herbold was in the end the only one who offered any pushback on the mayor’s decision to cut off city support for and ties with neighborhood district councils. She proposed keeping their relatively tiny amount of city funding – about $500 per council, generally spent to rent meeting locations – in the budget, and proposed a reduced official role for them in neighborhood project-vetting. But without other councilmembers’ support, those proposals died in the budget process. Herbold says it was a headscratcher to her too. But: “For me, the fact that the city isn’t giving them a particular role isn’t going to change my relationship with these groups that are on the ground and continuing to network with the neighbors and share information. They’re a valuable resource to anyone who cares about representation of their district at City Hall. If anything, I’ll find ways to incorporate their voices more.”
DISTRICT OFFICE HOURS
This has proven to be a popular feature, Herbold says. Over the course of the year, she says, her nine sessions at West Seattle and South Park locations totaled 57 hours during which she talked with 143 constituents.
ANY SURPRISES DURING THE YEAR?
She is most surprised that “things are moving at a faster pace than I was accustomed to” (during her previous years at City Hall) … “I feel like the Council wants to get things done … I see my job as keeping things moving; I want to see progress, I want to see what the next step is, put a date to it, hold myself and others accountable.”
SPEAKING OF NEXT STEPS … WHAT’S NEXT?
As mentioned earlier in our conversation, the HALA rezones will take a lot of time, since she’s on the PLUZ Committee. “Also a lot of work to be done, hopefully in my committee, lifting up the issues important to workers in our city,” while workers will be experiencing “a lot of gains” due to things already in motion. The Office of Labor Standards, she notes, will have new resources, and she hopes that will enable it to be proactive – until now, she said, it’s been 100 percent complaint-based.
Also: “Still a lot of good work that we could be doing addressing needs of renters – we’re putting together a renters’ commission in early 2017 – I’m excited – sort of watchdogging enforcement of the city’s pro-renter laws. I want to see a voice for renters in other decisions the city make – land-use type of things.”
As for district-specific matters in queue for the new year, the Fauntleroy Boulevard project will be “pretty significant.”
As will be a few non-district-specific items for which she was not exactly cheerleading last year:
“Inevitably other things will come up – like two competing arena proposals, new bike-share proposals …” She doesn’t see much likelihood that bike-sharing will be scrapped entirely. So then, we ask, what about bike sharing for West Seattle? “Even with a new vendor, (it’s) still focusing on other areas of the city,” Herbold says, while promising to look at whether West Seattle and South Park can and will be served.
WHAT ABOUT ANNEXATION?
Herbold doesn’t expect the city to ask White Center/North Highline voters about annexation this year – the earliest date that had been mentioned by the mayor’s point person on the issue, Kenny Pittman. The South Park annexation is “moving more slowly than I anticipated,” she explains, still being negotiated.
ABOUT THE CHANGE IN THE WHITE HOUSE
We had to ask about that too, with Inauguration Day less than three weeks away. “I think the (change in Presidents) is going to affect everything we do. We’re going to have to play defense and make sure that we don’t lose federal funding for priorities” such as transportation and housing. Playing defense will also include “our state’s victories” such as marriage equality, drug reform, immigration, she said.
“The strength of our city is that we continue to pass groundbreaking legislation, serving as an example for other cities, to protect the most vulnerable people in our communities.”
AND PERSONALLY …
(Grandchildren Jamaya and Jamil and husband Bob with her, post-swearing-in on January 4, 2016)
As she mentioned toward the start of our interview, Herbold feels like the first year has been a “whirlwind.” But, “I’m feeling more like I’m able to at least envision striking a balance between work and other commitments. I’m not quite there yet – you don’t just turn it off, I never have (done that) with my work … (but) I think the adjustment is coming.”
P.S. For Herbold’s own version of her first year in review – which she had just finished writing (but not yet published) before we sat down to talk last week – go here.
SOMETHING TO TELL, OR ASK, YOUR COUNCILMEMBER?
Contact info is on the right sidebar here.
As announced by Highland Park Action Committee, Councilmember Herbold will speak about the “State of Delridge” at HPAC’s 7 pm January 25th meeting, co-sponsored by (in lieu of this month’s meetings of) the Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council, the North Delridge Neighborhood Council, and South Delridge Neighborhood Group. All are welcome to the meeting at Highland Park Improvement Club (12th SW/SW Holden).