By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“I’m running.” That was how City Councilmember Lisa Herbold opened a coffeehouse conversation with us this morning, announcing that she’s seeking a second term as the District 1 (West Seattle/South Park) representative on the council. She says that while she has a reputation as a “policy wonk,” she and her staff have “gotten the most satisfaction” out of working directly with constituents. “From getting a streetlight fixed … to getting SDOT to build a stairway,” Herbold says it’s been “powerful” to connect residents with the people in city government who can help, to “amplify their voices.” We talked about a lot more, of course, including her response to critics on a variety of issues – so check back in about an hour as we add the rest of the story. Herbold’s declaration means at least five people are now in the D-1 race, looking ahead to the August primary.
ADDED 11:50 AM: Working for the district, Herbold says, doesn’t just mean individual constituents’ issues, which were also a reason for running that she cited when announcing her original run in February 2015. She adds that she’s proud of “policy work that has specifically helped the district.” She’s been recounting that in lengthy weekly updates, published online and sent to her mailing list. Just a few she lists: The noise-ordinance work requested by Alki residents; advocating for shore power to be part of the T-5 project; a ready-to-work program in High Point; safety advocacy in South Park.
Others are listed on her campaign website, including commitments made during her 2015 campaign. “And there’s still a lot of work to be done.” Impact fees is high on that list – she mentions transportation and utility fees – and “addressing displacement issues” (right now, evictions are in the spotlight).
We observe that it’s been a rocky four years for the council in general.
“It’s definitely a different job than it used to be,” Herbold agrees. “It’s more intense … the expectations are higher … civic discussion has become more polarized.” But constituent services is what she sees as the touchpoint “where you can restore faith in government.”
In our recent interviews with challengers – and in other forums – a frequent criticism of the current council is that it’s spend-happy. Herbold says she agrees that the “issue of accountability is important – we have to be good public stewards of public dollars” and contends that she has led the council on that issue. She cites legislation stipulating council review of contracts and of capital projects. In the past, she says, the council didn’t always get “full information” about them, and now that’s changing. The council is working with the mayor’s office “to develop a watch list,” she adds, which is expected to go public in February.
One accountability model she points to is the budget stipulation that required a council review when the Delridge Way paving-and-more project reached 10 percent design, before any more funding could be released. This is the sort of accountability that could hold off surprises such as those on projects of which she’s been critical, including the Center City Streetcar and the city’s original bike-share program (Pronto).
Regarding eviction prevention, Herbold believes stronger protection for renters could keep some from becoming homeless. She says that people don’t always understand that while many people are being helped out of homelessness, many others continue to fall into it, and that needs to be addressed on a multitude of levels, from building more affordable housing to helping people stay in the housing they have. Current law allows some people to be evicted for owing less than a month’s rent, and does not oblige landlords to accept late payments after as little as three days, she notes.
She stresses the “regional responsibility” to tackle homelessness, and is hopeful that the new joint city-county initiative will be “a game-changer” for improved outcomes and accountability, and that it will “help the discussion about how to pay for (solutions). … We need a structure that can make decisions; this new regional body will do that.”
Also on the subject of homelessness, when asked about an example of something she would have done differently in her first term if she could have, she brings up the “head tax” – aka Employee Hours Tax – which she co-sponsored, and which the council passed, only to subsequently cancel the plan. She said they had no choice but to back off, with even supporters telling them they would lose a referendum vote. “I stayed awake nights thinking about it.” Herbold says that going to the voters first would have been a better way to do it – San Francisco, for example, has passed that kind of tax as a result of doing it that way. “They were able to run a proactive campaign about the need and use the campaign to make the case,” she notes, adding that she is “gratified” to see other cities around the country following suit. “I’m glad to have played some part in getting that started.”
Some critics allege that she and other councilmembers are “anti-business.” Herbold begs to differ. She points to the legacy-business program she’s been championing with the Office of Economic Development. For starters, she says, that program would designate one business at a time in each council district for support, with nominations from the community, and criteria “focused on what makes that particular business an anchor, a link to that community’s history.” If the program is a success for starters, “I’d like to expand it to be more robust.”
She also defends her record on businesses by bringing it back to the reason she says she wants to keep the job – helping constituents one by one. “Some businesses reach out to me for help,” such as Luna Park facing more parking removal in the upcoming paving project. And, “when district businesses said they were concerned about ‘secure scheduling,’ I made sure small business was exempt.” Same goes for a business tax that increased to fund police.
Some constituent advocacy has put her in the line of citywide fire, such as proposing changes to the citywide HALA Mandatory Housing Accountability upzoning plan. Rather than a watering-down of the upzoning, she sees the potential changes as helping achieve community support of a “shared objective of all councilmembers,” to get the MHA program in place and start raising more money for affordable housing. She is “optimistic” the amendments will be approved.
We ask about one more big issue of D-1 interest: Light rail, and specifically whether money will be found for some tunneling as part of the plan. She points to her post this week raising concern that the increased price tag for the Center City Streetcar could take away money that the city needs for other types of transit, such as the light-rail project (for which she serves on the Elected Leadership Group).
So now it’s on to the campaign. She says she plans to collect signatures to qualify for Democracy Vouchers. No campaign-kickoff event is on her calendar immediately but she says she’ll have one “eventually.” And she says even her grandchildren are on board with the campaign – her granddaughter (a 9th grader at Chief Sealth International High School) “is already lining up votes for me,” and her grandson is president of his class at Sanislo Elementary.