By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Phil Tavel says his main motivation for wanting to join the Seattle City Council has only intensified in the four years since his first try.
“When I ran the last time, I wanted to represent our district … in the four years since then, I can’t think of anything that’s gotten better. My desire to help the city work better has only increased.”
It’s been three months since Tavel registered his intent to run, as reported here in October. Now he’s running at full speed as of his campaign kickoff last night at Easy Street Records in The Junction. Here’s what he and his featured speakers told the crowd:
That’s community advocate Pete Spalding speaking after Tavel in the first clip; he was preceded (second clip) by Peel & Press proprietor Dan Austin, who emceed; Easy Street’s Matt Vaughan; local business advocate Lora Radford, entrepreneur Joe Jeannot; and Husky Deli‘s Jack Miller. Responsiveness to small business is a central theme for Tavel, a lawyer who himself has been, among other things, a small-business owner. We sat down to talk the night before his kickoff:
“Owning a business doesn’t mean you’re rich. You’re trying hard to support a lot of other people.” Not just your family and your employees, but also community organizations – small businesses are major donors for and sponsors of everything from school auctions to youth-sports teams. “I’ve seen a shocking decrease in businesses’ ability to keep giving – their bottom line has been cut into …”
Community involvement is something Tavel says he’s stepped up even further since his first run. He’s the vice president of the Morgan Community Association and running its popular start-of-summer festival. He’s joined the board of Allied Arts. And his longstanding Wednesday trivia nights at Talarico’s in The Junction have included an increasing number of fundraisers, Tavel says, for local nonprofits such as WestSide Baby and West Seattle Helpline.
He was hailed at his kickoff as someone who listens. Tavel says he’s done a lot of that as he got ready to run – including city employees such as police officers and firefighters. He also says he’s had further insight into city workings while being involved with the citywide coalition SCALE and its appeal of the HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability upzoning Environmental Impact Statement. Because of his profession, he “ended up on the legal committee … with that group,” and was involved in its mediation attempts with the city. No resolution was reached, but Tavel gained “kind of an insight that the council and city government had their plan, their direction all set – they weren’t really interested in talking to neighborhoods.”
Which brings him to the first of what he cites as “my three biggest issues”: He sees a need for “improved civic outreach,” not only for District 1, but for the city as a whole, talking with constituents “well in advance, so that people feel like their voice is really being heard and listened to and incorporated in the city process … government by the people, for the people.”
Second, he cites “homelessness and public safety,” especially in regard to “understanding the numbers.” He says numbers resonate for him because he has a background in physics. He says he also has a “team … taking a deep dive and seeing how much money is being spent and where the gaps are … (when) you hear how much money (is spent) each year, how much per person, I don’t get a sense that the city understands what’s being spent and how effective (the spending is). … It’s been announced as a crisis, an emergency, but I don’t see it being dealt with that way. They keep saying they want more money, but they don’t say for what.”
More than a matter of money, he sees city problems as a failure to collaborate. Tavel vows to work “to end the politics of accusation … we need to work together … to fix these problems.”
Asked to cite examples of failure to collaborate, he cites the long-running Seattle Police contract dispute, as well as the lengthy time it has taken for the city and county to start working on a truly regional response to homelessness. In something of an intersection of the two issues, he mentions a recent visit to Camp Second Chance, where he says encampment residents have been doing their best to report nearby crime problems, but not getting enough city support in addressing those problems. Not to mention, he observes, to the point of the need for the camp – “in a city that generates $6 billion in tax revenue, nobody should be living on the street.”
We ask for his thoughts on District 1-specific issues. Transportation, Tavel replies quickly. He observes that the switch from viaduct to tunnel will soon reveal wha else needs to be addressed – and what opportunities there are for longterm change. “Maybe set up more telecommuting – could we set up a telecommuting hub? Something with multiple tech companies …”
Also, property crime. Tavel is on the Southwest Precinct Advisory Council – and has been a crime victim. “I’ve had my car broken into twice in Arbor Heights, my parents were victims of a burglary … I never experienced that in New York or D.C.” Hiring more police could help, he believes.
But that costs more money, and he’s already voiced concern about spending, as well as taxing, so, we ask, where would he find that money? “We’re literally looking at every line” in the city budget, “finding out where there are potential inefficiencies … my team is … looking for ways that the city might not be spending money well.” He stresses that he doesn’t have the answers yet, but he’s asking the questions and hoping to find places that money could be better prioritized.
There also could be additional sources of money that don’t involve taxing, Tavel notes – for example, he thinks the city should seek to charge higher fees for affordable housing to be funded by HALA MHA, so that “in a boom time you can generate revenue for more actual affordable housing.”
We ask what he thinks about the current city push for increased density. “Density’s going to happen, growth is going to happen, and that’s good,” he says, but he would like to see the planning done more “strategically … meaningful neighborhood by neighborhood planning.” He says one thing he loves about Seattle, where he’s lived for 20 years, is that it’s “a combination of urban and town.”
Even the issue of increasing density brings up unintended consequences, he says, such as “the need to think about infrastructure” – if you’re going to allow 10-story buildings, for example, do you have fire department ladder trucks that reach beyond seven stories? “I don’t think the City Council thinks holistically … what are the collateral impacts (of any given action)?” He cites the decision to ban plastic straws, leaving, he says, businesses with a backlog that “suddenly … became landfill.” Maybe having a councilmember who’s been a business owner would mean more holistic thinking and planning. That goes for looking into the future, too – climate change may bring more people moving here, so the Comprehensive Plan should address that, as well as addressing new technologies such as autonomous vehicles.
Planning, he adds, is about “who they talk to, why, for how long, and who’s not being included.” He says the SCALE appeal of HALA MHA hit that point – “when you have 29 groups … saying, ‘you didn’t talk to us,'” despite the city trumpeting numbers of comments, briefings, etc. – “look at who was there.”
Again, he reiterates, his watch words are effectiveness and efficiency. He feels he’s “grown as a person” since his 2015 run, in which he placed third of nine candidates in the primary. “I’d been a dad for three years – now I’ve been a dad for seven years. I’ve transitioned from being a public defender to (other areas of law). … I’ve tried to work on my skills negotiating and mediating. I’ve talked to more people around the city.” He says he loves to talk to people and to listen, and believes that’s enhanced his skillset for the role of councilmember. “If I talk to people, I hear problems, and I see solutions.” Having been a teacher – that’s part of where his physics experience came in –
But don’t just take his word for it. Talk to all the candidates, he urges, before you make your decision who you want to vote for. (Tavel says he learned a lot from talking in 2015 with everyone else who was running.) And do vote! He’s disappointed that fewer than half our area’s registered voters turned out for the first-ever District 1 council vote. “Don’t tune out … please pay attention, take the time and find the person you want to represent you.” And consider that person’s potential for having “the skills and capacity to deal with the problems we (don’t know about yet).”
That, Tavel smiles, is “where I say you probably wouldn’t mind having (as your councilmember) a lawyer who’s a physicist and a game developer.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Your chances to take his advice and talk with him will be many, he promises. He’ll arrive an hour early and stay late at his Wednesday trivia events at Talarico’s, which means 7:30 pm until after 10. And he is planning a launch party at South Park Hall (1253 S. Cloverdale) on February 23rd, featuring the West Seattle Big Band. Then starting in March, he plans weekly visits to bars and restaurants where you can stop by to talk with him. It’s a long road to the August primary.
Also running so far, in order of campaign registration: Isaiah Willoughby, Brendan Kolding, Jesse Greene, and incumbent Lisa Herbold.