Video/photos and recap by Patrick Sand and Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog co-publishers
Two of the Seattle City Council‘s nine positions are on your ballot for the general-election voting that’s under way right now.
The four people seeking them were in West Seattle tonight for an in-person forum at Our Lady of Guadalupe‘s Walmesley Center, presented by the Westside Interfaith Network, High Point Mosque, and League of Women Voters Seattle-King County.
Though the forum stuck to basic topics like homelessness and public safety, the dialogue – moderated by West Seattle journalist Brian Callanan – was lively, with each candidate offered the chance for up to four rebuttals, and most of those 16 opportunities getting used.
OLG pastor Father Kevin Duggan and the League of Women Voters’ Lucy Gaskill-Gaddis welcomed the candidates – for Position 8, incumbent Teresa Mosqueda and civil engineer Ken Wilson; for Position 9, community organizer/lawyer/artist Nikkita Oliver and brewery co-owner Sara Nelson. Wilson is the only first-time candidate in the group; Oliver ran for mayor in 2017, the same year Nelson made her first try for council.
All four candidates were asked to answer each question. What you read below in our recap is how we summarized the questions and responses, not direct quotes except for what’s within quotation marks. When you see more than one response from a candidate following a certain question, that’s a rebuttal.
First, opening statements:
MOSQUEDA: Touted her work in the past four years, including housing issues, worker protections, small-business advocacy. She noted her work at the Washington State Labor Council and Children’s Alliance before that. She said coalition-building is one of her strengths.
WILSON: He empathized with the bridge-closure traffic – saying it had been 21 months (actually, it’s been 19). “This city is in a really hard spot,” he said. He said he would “make a change” and a “big difference.” As an engineer, he said, accountability is his specialty.
OLIVER: They talked about their background in advocacy. “I believe our budget is a moral document” that needs to focus on the “most vulnerable” among us. They said the city needs to commit to affordable housing, safety, transportation, and to fight the “climate catastrophe that is upon us.” They believe they can “bring together a “broad coalition of community members to solve these crises.”
NELSON: She says she’s been in Seattle for more than 30 years and formerly worked at City Hall. “Good policy is made … by listening to people.” She owns a brewery with her husband and is ‘concerned about neighborhood business districts.” Also: “If you think things are going well in Seattle right now, I’m probably not your candidate” – she wants to change things.
****QUESTION: Tell us your approach to homelessness, including how to keep parks and public spaces clear.
WILSON: “Following the law and making sure we don’t have unsanctioned encampments.” But he recognizes that “these are real people” in bad straits. He wants to build a “transition facility” with job training, addiction help, social services. He says the “facility” would be an “asset for our community.”
MOSQUEDA: Regarding building housing, we need to “create more housing within our city.” She said the JumpStart Tax she championed will do that. “Housing is the end game.” But temporary solutions like old hotels and apartment buildings are important too. What’s desperately needed are case managers and other service-providing personnel. As for clearing encampments, moving folks won’t help them.
NELSON: The city has “no plan” so it needs a model that’s worked in other cities. Notes that the regional authority is about to take over. Need to know the individuals, coordinate among service providers, directly fund mental-health and substance-abuse treatment. “Ignoring encampments … is making the problem worse.”
OLIVER: A report said we need $400 million a year for housing; more revenue is needed to get there. Also need to add to behavioral-health services. Need to build deeply affordable housing. City just acquired buildings – adequate bridge housing needed. “Radical accessibility” should be funded instead of sweeps. In sweeps, “they get lost.”
NELSON: What do we do until all this housing is built? We can’t just ignore encampments and spend money facilitating them. “I think we need to spend all our money on housing and outreach.”
OLIVER: Money that’s in the budget for sweeps should be leveraged for hygiene services and navigators. Not sweeping people means they can be found and helped. We need to know where homeless people can be found.
MOSQUEDA: People living outside include many families – half of Seattle’s homeless population is living in vehicles. We need safe lots, places where case managers can find them.
WILSON: Think about what you just heard. They’ve been putting money into the system – and no results. Should we put more money into that? Questions the spending to buy empty hotels and other buildings. Need to build something new.
MOSQUEDA: Data shows that when people have someplace to be, like tiny houses, they are far more likely to move into stable housing. Homelessness has increased so much, problem is that we haven’t kept up. We haven’t built enough affordable housing as fast as we need to. But spending to facilitate that has increased during her first term.
****QUESTION: City has goal of being carbon-neutral. What effects of climte change are you seeing? How do you respond to them?
OLIVER: End the apartment ban, get out of exclusionary zoning, stop killing urban tree canopy. Invest in transit. Green workforce. Has been working with unions to build pipeline into green economy, especially for Black and brown people. Expand electrical grid to meet demand.
NELSON: “I agree with most of what Nikkita said.” It’s about housing, fuels … but “we are not going to reach carbon-neutral goals until we engage the community – got to get the private sector to step up. .. Who better to engage than a small-business owner?”
MOSQUEDA: Not too late to reach 2050 goal. Have an achievable goal by 2030. Fight for more affordable housing and require more setbacks for tree canopy, green roofs, trees on public land … Building in the city reduces the need for people to commute in. Wants to apply energy-efficiency standards to all buildings in Seattle. Going to scale up weatherization for older homes.
WILSON: “We are making great strides.” Especially transit progress. “I will not take apart our society but I will help build a better way (for us) to get here.” Making changes on what’s already there, not tear down and build something new. Development is taking down trees. Up to us to protect our trees now. Those proposals have been before the council for years.
MOSQUEDA: She lives in West Seattle in a dense neighborhood where one lot was turned into four homes. Greater density can be done while still protecting trees. She mentions a South Park 13-home development that she said protects old-growth trees. Promises to fight for density and green canopy.
****QUESTION: Closure of West Seattle Bridge has hit people hard. What solutions can you offer?
NELSON: Worked with Richard Conlin on ST2. Waiting for ST3 to come to West Seattle is a long haul but she’s committed to making sure it’s built well and ‘that you are listened to.” She’s hearing that WS is not being listened to much. Re: buses, “we need to prioritize the mobility of buses.” Need infrastructure investments to speed them up.
OLIVER: Short term, find better ways to time freight, under-bridge traffic. It’s also economically important – freight drivers work based on load. Fixing the bridge is fastest way to get your access back. Need to think longterm about putting money away now for future replacement of bridge, how does it work with transit, other mobility matters.
NELSON: Wants to see the federal money, making sure there’s a lot of money for expediting bridge repairs. “Has the Port stepped up?” (Yes, it has, as reported here, a $9 million commitment.)
WILSON: This bridge could have been opened a long time ago. The main span repairs are done. 108,000 vehicles impacted a day. How much is that costing? Trucks and buses go on lower bridge today.
MOSQUEDA: Lives in North Delridge, 4 blocks from bridge. SDOT “has been working around the clock to try to mitigate the impact.” “It is on time, we are going to open it by mid-year next year.” Meantime she will keep working to increase frequency of buses, and is glad about the Water Taxi keeping 7-day schedule through winter. Wants to make the space under the bridge more usable (park-ride, etc.).
WILSON: They fixed the bridge, now the same contractor is coming back. That contractor could have stayed on site and continued the work. “This city had a lot of opportunities to do things for (residents) the past 12 months; they did not.”
MOSQUEDA: The strengthening that’s been placed is only in the middle of the bridge – there are more areas that need to be strengthened. SDOT has said that if we open just one lane now it would “undo the very fixes that have been put into place. … By this time next year we’ll be three months into driving that bridge.”
WILSON: Says he has seen the reports and disagrees.
****QUESTION: Gun violence and a spike in homicides have plagued the city. What gun control measures do you support?
OLIVER: Works closely with young people affected by gun violence. Has been to funerals. Mentions organizations they’ve worked with. We need to invest in those strategies. Programs are changing the conditions that young people are living in. We’ve created disastrous conditions for them … need to change that rather than punish them.
NELSON: Those organizations are not working. “Gun violence is going up and up and up. … We need to make sure we are funding the right programs.” It’s more than just community-driven solutions … we also need effective law enforcement … defunding or abolishing the police is not the right thing to do.
OLIVER: “Yes, I’m an abolitionist, and an attorney.” Acknowledges changes don’t come quickly. Lists programs to expand. Need to tighten gun rules – young people are getting guns because of adults who have easy access to them.
MOSQUEDA: “Large cities like Seattle are experiencing” increased gun violence. Wants to ensure public-safety response has “the right person showing up at the right time.” Mentions SFD’s Health One and the need to increase it so West Seattle would have one of its own. Increase community-service officers and mental-health crisis personnel.
WILSON: Council has reduced enforcement of laws, forced out former SPD Chief Carmen Best … We have to go back and fix things. Work to keep good police. “And start enforcing the law, the smaller things that look like nuisances, the graffiti that’s going on … council should provide support for police … it’s about actually solving the criminality.”
****QUESTION: West Seattle is diverse. How do you help families when their children are caught up in problems?
NELSON: Channels of communication between community and the city are broken … mentions the dismantling of the district council system. “This is a lack of.access. … Why isn’t the city going out and reaching out to the communities themselves?” Says councilmembers aren’t answering emails.
OLIVER: “That’s been my life’s work for the past 7 years,” supporting families, navigating through school exclusion, sustainable food option, criminal legal system. These services have to fight for their budgets while the police don’t. Wants to increase funding via city Human Services department. Support de-escalation services via “trusted people.” Restore full funding for Seattle Youth Employment Program.
WILSON: Reduce the negative consequences that are happening .. restore trust in case workers and others. Frame the problem, identify what’s going on, come up with a plan. Feels the city is throwing a lot of money at problems right now without accountability.
MOSQUEDA: Spent her time on council working with organizations to address that question. Housing stability. Increased money for rent stabilization, helped increase access to child care “so kids have a safe place to go” after schools. Increased food access. “These are the issues that contribute to the social determinants of health.” Also supports arts/cultural activities like a “free wall” for graffiti art.
NELSON: Nobody’s mentioned one thing that could have prevented a lot of these issues … opportunity … “helping immigrants build a life in Seattle.” Many own small businesses, and “it’s time” for a councilmember who understands what that’s like.
****QUESTION: What does “defund the police” mean to you and what do we need?
OLIVER: “Defund the police” cannot be uncoupled from investing in Black and brown communities.’ Analysis of 911 data showed many are non-crime calls. “Up to 49 percent of calls could receive another type of response” – so divesting 50 percent and moving it to a “more significant public safety investment” is what they would support. Also, invest more in city-run behavioral-health system. Prevention is “what this work’s about.”
NELSON: Agrees that officers are responding to crisis calls for which they’re not trained. But “I am extremely concerned about defunding the police” any further at this time. People may have called police and they’ve not come. Need to bring back Community Policing Teams, diversify police force…Was talking to a small-biz owner in Columbia City, a Black man who was broken into twice and wants police to show up.
OLIVER: Important to understand that city council fully funded mayor’s budget for SPD. Staffing shortages are for other reasons. What “defunding” has happened involves moving 911 and Parking Enforcement out of the police department. Also state-level changes need to be made to ensure we have the right people responding at the right time.
MOSQUEDA: Even before last year’s racial reckoning … officers have been telling her “we have ben asked to do too much … I cannot be somebody’s mental-health counselor …” What we ought to be doing is finding somebody else to show up to those calls. Says Seattle isn’t alone in having lost a lot of officers. Says the numbers have been misconstrued and that the department i actually down about 98 officers.
WILSON: We need more officers. Crime has risen. Look at what SPD Chief Adrian Diaz told a newspaper … he is short-staffed “There’s real crime and real problems happening.” He talked to 911 retirees, police. We need to engage police. City leaders weren’t talking to police (last year). Can’t work it out by pushing them out of the room.
****QUESTION: High Point wants 24-hour patrol – discuss.
OLIVER: Doesn’t need to be armed officers. We have organizations trained in de-escalation work. Our data says 49 percent of incidents could use a non-sworn response.
NELSON: It’s clear that people do not feel safe. Our public safety system is broken.Can’t just cut police without knowing who’s going to come when your house is getting broken into.
OLIVER: It is irresponsible to fear-monger. Sounds lije 1980s tough on crime era that did not increase safety … Investigate in navigators, peer counselors … the number 1 determination of safety is housing, “This city has an obligation to respond” in a way that moves toward true public safety.
WILSON: We do need patrols, but properly, with police. We don’t know what they’re going to find … you need an officer with a level of force to show up … don’t use statistics inappropriately.
MOSQUEDA: Counters that Wilson is using stats inappropriately. The stats show that all those calls ARE non-criminal in nature. We’ve increased community service officers … I’d like to offer other solutions such as lighting … and a safe place for kids …
WILSON: This is all about public safety and what people are feeling … criminals know there will be no enforcement … and that’s why it’s happening. Think about how you feel now and let it affect what we should be doing.
****QUESTION:.What’s your experience with child-care access? Increased investment is needed.
WILSON: His wife has worked with an organization in the field. He has daughters 16 and 22. “We still have to .. allow families to decide what they need to do.” Socializing it won’t work.
MOSQUEDA: Her background is in public health. Age 0-3 is the most influential. Make sure kids have a safe place to go. Before the pandemic Seattle was a child-care desert. She’s worked to enable the expansion of care. Mentions federal proposal.
NELSON: Child care’s a good thing. Should offer it to the youngest kids. But where’s that money going to come from? She won’t just say “great idea” without understanding where $ is coming from.
OLIVER: Refers to Nelson’s multiple mentions of the Solidarity Budget. Oliver didn’t come up with it but did sign on as did 100 other organizations. Worked as a child-care worker for $10/hour. It should be available to all like other essential services. Yes, as Nelson said, budget is a tradeoff, but public safety/courts are a place from which to redirect $.
****QUESTION: How will you work with other public officials?
OLIVER: They’re an organizer. Would build partnerships. Will continue to do that work. Small businesses matter but Black and brown small businesses are not valued as much as white. Will show up at small business events even knowing they might not like Oliver’s opinions.
NELSON: Learned from her work as a council assistant. It’s about relationship-building, even with those who have different agendas. “Seattle doesn’t have a great reputation right now.”
MOSQUEDA: That’s what she’s doing now. Has stood with US Sen. Patty Murray for Build Back Better Act. Has built relationships over her 20 years of work. Works to be sure legislative and executive branches can work together. That’s what she did to get JumpStart Tax passed.
WILSON: Team-building starts with not excluding others who have (different opinions). Need to go out into the public to meet with people. Work through the steps.
With that, it was time for closing statements.
OLIVER: Wants to work for safe, healthy city that can address the climate catastrophe
NELSON: Says opponent has empty rhetoric, wants to spend more without a plan. “There is an antidote to the dysfunction we’ve been seeing for the past 4 years.”
MOSQUEDA: Glad to see neighbors at first in-person forum. “Very much aware” of crises facing the city, believes that a second term will allow her to do more. Has drawn national attention for good things.
WILSON: “I’m a different kind of candidate” – wants to “run the business of a city.” Says he’ll “protect our infrastructure, protect our great city.”
WHAT’S NEXT: These are two of 17 races/measures on your ballot, which needs to be returned to a dropbox by 8 pm November 2nd, or postmarked no later than that date.