By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The general-election campaign for Seattle City Council District 1 officially kicked into higher gear tonight, with the first of at least five post-primary forums/debates.
The District 1 Community Network organized this one, attended by more than 25 people at the Duwamish Tribe Longhouse. Phil Tavel and Lisa Herbold spent an hour and a half answering questions posed by Chris Porter, drawn up in advance by organizers.
It was a polite event, no major disagreements, no attacks. We didn’t transcribe the full responses – you can watch our video (update: added below):
If something is in quote marks, it’s a quote; otherwise it’s a summary/paraphrase and the words are those of your reporter. After 1-minute introductions that each candidate gave. here’s how it went:
1ST Q: South Delridge has become overwhelmed with nuisance houses. Councilmember Herbold has worked with the community but it’s still a problem. What more will you do?
LH: A new monitoring law has been passed but community help is needed to identify these buildings and report them to SDCI. (On followup, what more will she do?) Property owners can get monitoring fee waived if they allow the vacant building to be used as housing for a caretaker – work toward that being utilized.
PT: The city is moving in the right direction. (On followup, what more will he do?) Empowering community groups, having police talk with community members about reporting problems when they see them.
2ND Q: South Delridge is still a food desert. How do you address that?
LH: Passed a resolution recently re: a Comprehensive Plan Amendment to require city to work with community on Neighborhood Planning for South Delridge.
PT: Delridge (Grocery) Co-op is finally launching and everyone possible in WS should join it. Neighborhood planning is important too.
Moderator followup: Is the Delridge Grocery Coop the best we can do to solve that “food desert” problem?
LH: Talking about appropriate zoning in SD is an important step – a grocery store can’t happen without appropriate zoning, same for density required to support one.
PT: We should support it as much as possible, as a start.
3RD Q: White Center annexation?
PT: Annexing WC is something that Seattle should do if the people of WC want it. They may not, currently, with concern that Seattle is not being run well. But if they are annexed and want to stay with Highline Public Schools, they should be able to. (On followup) WC is a more welcoming home for new businesses right now without being part of the city.
LH: We’re not moving forward on it right now because negotiations are stalled regarding the (unincorporated South Park) sliver by the river. I’m concerned about bringing in another underserved neighborhood when we already have one (the in-city part of SP). (On followup re: welcoming new businesses) “We definitely have a big-city bureaucracy to deal with.”
4TH Q: What can be done to keep all transportation mode users safe?
LH: I recently voted to support implementation of update on Bicycle Master Plan,voted last year to implement updated Pedestrian Master Plan, and now we’re going into the budget cycle to figure out how to fund all that. (On followup, how is SDOT doing?) There’s a large backlog and we need to get projects out the door. Next week I’m introducing a new resolution directing SDOT to figure out how to deal with broken sidewalks.
PT: We’re not doing enough – need better education on driving safely. Also, SDOT is doing a bad job engineering.
5TH Q: Does Transportation Benefit District funding need to be extended or replaced?
LH: TBD funding for Metro is one of the best things we’ve done; we definitely need to renew it. The county also should consider doing something similar. I’m concerned about the Eyman initiative because we could lose a big chunk of funding for TBD.
PT: We don’t have enough bus drivers, maintenance sheds, need to work on that, maybe with different transit engineers.
6TH Q: How will you work to fulfill Move Seattle levy promises and projects? Can those promises be kept?
LH: Been working with city budget office on new capital oversight system for some high-risk projects to be on watch list that they don’t go over budget and off schedule – RapidRide H Line is one example. They can’t even get funding until they come to council and prove they’re fulfilling the plan.
PT: Bad track record so far since I moved here in ’90s. We need better oversight – that’s why I want to audit SDOT.
7TH Q: Gentrification – lots of it in South Park. How can it stay affordable in the face of all this?
LH: Working with Duwamish Valley Housing Coalition, which is working with city and banks for affordable community-owned housing projects. Working on one such project right now. I also have legislation pending right now to require developers to replace affordable housing that’s torn down.
PT: Gentrification isn’t about affordable housing, it’s about loss of a community. Just saw “On the Brink” (screened in West Seattle last weekend) about what happened in CD. South Park shouldn’t be an urban village, shouldn’t be in HALA MHA. (On followup) City could have done more to protect CD’s culture – it’s kind of late now – being there, talking with leaders, what do you need (etc.).
8TH Q: Opioid crisis – are we doing enough?
PT: Absolutely not. Failing on multiple levels. Being at the point where we’re OK with people doing drugs out in the street is wrong. My clients (as public defender) often want to get clean in jail. (On followup) It IS a city problem – we can’t pass the buck.
LH: Agree that we’re not doing enough but this is more a responsibility of other levels of government -we have to figure out what our role is. City can partner with funders in expanding LEAD program. Supposed to start referrals in SW Precinct this year but mayor hasn’t signed contract. (On followup) Not confident that there’s a coordinated plan.
9TH Q: If we’re going to have a safe-injection site, what key conversations do we need to have?
LH: Can’t do anything right now because this is all tied up in the courts. But they’re not about enabling drug use, they’re about saving lives. City still has $ earmarked but can’t move forward until we see what happens in Philadelphia lawsuit.
PT: Need to talk with people about what it means – unintended consequences such as what’s happened in Vancouver. Studies showing $ savings are flawed.
10TH Q: We have $15 minimum wage but what is the minimum wage required to live in Seattle?
LH: To pay for 2-bedroom apartment, $30/hour. (On followup) Need to recognize forces at play here – the companies that are doing well in our city are not paying their fair share – it’s an “inequitable system. …Our conversation about progressive taxation is not going away.”
PT: Doesn’t disagree. (On followup) But the more complex issue, city is going through an “urban adolescence” that people weren’t ready for. Just fixing the minimum wage wouldn’t fix the problems.
11TH Q: So if progressive taxation is part of the answer, what kind of a conversation are you going to have as a councilmember?
LH: I led council in passing “income tax on the affluent” which is working its way through the courts. Optimistic about its chances. If approved, then we need to “turn down” reliance on property tax and sales tax. (On followup) City has successful lobbying effort with state legislature. Also helps turn out community support at Legislature. Last legislative session, we were successful on issues including tenants’ rights.
PT: Need to talk to companies about being partners; council needs to work with private industry. (On followup) Need conversations about how Seattle could support statewide conversations rather than city and county being adversarial with rest of state.
12TH Q: Are you OK with Councilmember Mike O’Brien‘s proposal to loosen SEPA (State Environmental Protection Act) requirements for development?
LH: She has serious concerns about whether bill would accomplish goals of preventing people from using it to stall projects. I’m concerned that removing SEPA as a process would actually make process longer – opponents would end up going to court. Hearing Examiner is very concerned.
PT: It’s a terrible idea.
13TH Q: Homelessness – then-mayor declared an emergency four years ago. Do we have the right plan? What’s missing? What’s better?
LH: We have more people living unsheltered but we are also moving more people into shelter. That’s because homelessness is increasing as housing costs increase. No dispute that there are many causes but the answer is always going to be housing. Need more permanent supportive housing. (On followup) Regarding service-provider concerns – hard to hold people accountable for moving people into permanent housing that doesn’t exist.
PT: If we keep defining this as a housing crisis, we’re going to continue to fail. City doesn’t seem to be moving with urgency. We have to address the root cause, “a city that’s failing to help people.” Providers are hijacking the conversation. DESC has asset holdings of $60 million. (On followup) Homeless service providers can’t be allowed to self-report their income. Tremendous lack of accountability and lack of political will. Mary’s Place and UGM are achieving “amazing results” with less support from the city than other providers.
14TH Q: When encampment sweep notices are placed – is this a fix or just placating concerned community members?
LH: The city prioritizes removal at certain locations when identified as hazard or obstruction. It’s intended to be a “harm reduction process.” Her approach has been “oversight,” managing municipal property.(Followup) We need more “enhanced shelter” beds – that’s what brings people inside willingly.
PT: Putting up notices is not fixing anything. Campers move a little ways away, then come right back after sweep. It’s because we’re not offering people alternatives. Seattle is wealthy and people want to help all the time. We’re not offering a job, social services, etc. (Followup – what alternatives?) He’s meeting with people to talk about ideas. “I don’t know what it is specifically but we’re not using all the (options).”
15TH Q: Do we need a tougher ordinance about keeping people from cutting trees to preserve views?
LH: Moderator was referring to infamous West Seattle tree cutting on public property to preserve private views. We’re talking now about tougher property but homeowners are already required to get permits and to prove the tree’s a problem. Ordinance changes are really about new development.
PT: We need to find ways to protect the tree canopy. If it’s on someone’s own land, they should be able to do what they want, but there should be a way they can enhance the canopy somewhere else.
16TH Q: How are you communicating about your campaign, your promises?
PT: Showing up at different WS venues, letting people know what’s going on, be part of the community, “face the music” if people have concerns.
LH: My website is laid out entirely to explain what I’ve done about promises I made in 2015 “so you can see the things I promised to do in 2015 and the things I’ve done from 2016 to 2019.” She says she’s fulfilled all major promises except still one area needs more work, developer impact fees. In “district office hours,” I’ll meet with anyone who shows up.
17TH Q: Has district elections worked to increase accountability, diversity of candidates, etc.?
PT: It’s definitely helped. But still “serious problems.” Democracy Vouchers, for example – if you gave yours to a candidate who dropped out, you can’t reallocate them. (On followup) Maybe change when the vouchers are sent out so they arrive at a time when people are really tuned in to what’s going on.
LH: She has 5,000 donors. She wouldn’t have run if we hadn’t gone to districts – “I love connecting with people” – but the change has brought a huge increase in independent expenditures, and we have to watch that. (On followup) She’s interested in possible reforms regarding that.
18TH Q: Scooters – since other cities have had problems with injuries, are they right for Seattle?
LH: I don’t want to see scooters on sidewalks.
PT: Probably OK to hold off on that.
19TH Q: Most exciting moment in campaign so far?
LH: Starting off with good momentum in getting 34th District Democrats’ sole endorsement.
PT: Making it through the primary and seeing that it was about a 50-50 split between incumbent and two challengers.
They also gave closing statements – again, see the video for those.
WHAT’S NEXT: D1CN is presenting another forum, 4:30 pm September 28th at Neighborhood House High Point (6400 Sylvan Way SW). Interpreters will be available for Somali and Vietnamese speakers. Three other organizations have announced forums/debates for October.