By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Less than five weeks remain until King County Elections mails ballots for this fall’s general election.
This time, top of the ticket for West Seattle and vicinity is electing a new City Council District 1 representative. Lisa Herbold has held the job for the eight years since the city started electing seven of the nine councilmembers by district, and she decided not to run for a third term. After an eight-candidate primary, two finalists remain in the running to succeed her: Maren Costa, who received 33 percent of the August vote, and Rob Saka, who got 24 percent.
Before the primary, we sat down with them and four other candidates for half-hour interviews, recorded on video. With the election approaching, and in advance of an intense schedule of forums and debates – including one we’re presenting on September 25th – we asked them to talk with us again. We recorded each conversation at Fauntleroy Schoolhouse. Costa talked with us this past Monday, September 11th. The main topic for both conversations was public safety, so that’s where we began:
If you can’t or don’t want to watch the video, here’s how the interview went:
Costa agrees that public safety “is top of mind for myself, for voters I’m talking to …it’s something we really need to get a handle on as a city. … We need to look at evidence-based solutions as much as we can … do the things that can get the most bang for our buck.”
#1, she says, is “rebuild the force … we know we need more officers … it’s past time to rebuild.” She says the city is trying to do that but needs to do more. She says the $30,000 bonuses haven’t been working. “We need to look at what it’s going to take for the younger generation to sign up for these jobs.” Seattle needs to be the best place for police to work. But she also warns, “We don’t want to drop our standards” just to get the numbers up.
#2, since hiring is not moving very quickly – a pace of about 15 additional officers per year so far, she says – “we can’t stop at a public-safety plan that says simply ‘hire more officers’.” She observes that the hiring problem is facing departments nationwide, not just Seattle. “Now is the time to use every other method we can to rebuild public safety in our neighborhoods.” She again uses the phrase “evidence-based” and says other cities are far ahead in launching “alternative solutions.” She suggests those could be set up “in tiers – officer-led only, a very violent situation; officer-led, civilian-backed; civilian-led, officer-backed; civilian-only-led; first responders like firefighters, who already are handling a lot of 911 calls … if we invest there and have all those alterative resposes set up, we will have higher public safety.”
Research and data could shape decisions too, she says – “we need to find out more about the [record number of] homicides,” for example. Though, she adds, one thing is already known – most involve guns. “We have to do everything we can to reduce guns in our community. We have to provide gun training,” and urge gun owners to keep their firearms locked up. She acknowledges that “black-market” guns are a major problem so “we need to deal wth that too.” She also suggests that more youth programs will help dissuade young people from going down the wrong path: “Get them into safe situations where they understand what gun violence is doing to our communities, their communities. Make sure kids have places to go, things to do.” She would love to see a sports complex in District 1. Also, she believes that if “the trades” are taught more in schools, enabling some to move directly into “good union jobs” right out of high school, that too will guide more lives down a productive path.
A lot of this has been discussed already by current councilmembers, so what’s going to be different if she gets into office? Costa says it’s imperative that all elected officials support the “evidence-based solutions” and the funding needed both for programs that are “already working” and for new promising ones. “No single councilmember can change that” – all need to be involved, and others, like the mayor, too.
Since she used the phrase “evidence-based” many times, we asked her what she means by it, and what are examples of “non-evidence-based” options. First thing she mentions: “Incarcerating drug users. We know we have a problem with drugs in our city. We know the answer is not, do nothing. We need to crack down in every way we can. Arresting and putting in jail overnight and turning them back out again doesn’t work, there’s evidence it doesn’t work.” She says mental and behavioral beds and care need to be available “so if an officer arrests, they have a place to put them where there’d a solution involved.” She says she sees some of this from the standpoint of being mom to a teenage son who’s had a difficult time. She wants “people in that situation to be offered a path that will turn them around, not churn them out.”
But since we don’t have that right now – we do have jails – what do we do?
Costa acknowledged, “We may need to pull people in, especially people harming other people, small businesses, we need a way to pull people out of society – but we also nlow our jails are understaffed (and) people are dying there, we don’t want to see somoene arrested for a health problem going to jail and dying, so we need to fix (the jail conditions) too.”
King County runs the jail, not the city, so what can you do to fix those conditions?
Costa says all levels of government need to work together, “have to put it at the top of our list.” She thinks the fresh start with new councilmembers “working more collaboratively” with each other, the mayor, and others, will “get things done.”
When we spoke with Costa, it was the day before the City Council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee voted in favor of the much-amended drug-use law. We asked if she supported the then-current version.
She was aware that “several amendments (were) coming forward” so she couldn’t speak to specifics, but said, “We know we need to do something urgently, but we need to do things that work … I want to see the funding some through for the diversion (plan) …yes, let’s move forward.”
More funding has to come from somewhere, and the city is said to be facing a budget crunch in the not-too-distant future, we note.
“The budget session is starting soon,” she notes, citing her credentials: “I came out of Amazon, (where the) leadership principle is frugality, ‘every dollar wasted is a dollar not spent on customers'” – she says that could be adopted to city government, just substitute “constituents” for “customers.” As for new revenue, she says a task force had some good ideas. We asked for specifics, noting that in the primary campaign, she mentioned a “vacancy tax.” That could be applied toward affordable housing, Costa said. She also said a one percent capital-gains tax seemed promising – it “would hit only a very small number of wealthy families in our state”; she said we can’t keep going to the property-tax well, because among other things, it hits “a lot of older people trying to age in place.”
We didn’t feel she’d answered the question of what “evidence-based” really means, so we asked it again. She gave the example of “housing first,” saying Seattle claims to be that, but “we haven’t really implemented that.” She said that when homelessness and poverty are addressed, “bringing people inside,” that has many benefits – “our parks become our parks, our streets become our streets,” and the people who are brought inside, into a safe place, even a vehicle in a “safe lot,” can start rebuilding their lives.
But not all criminals are homeless, so what about her philosophy on overall enforcement?
She cited as “evidence-based solutions” cameras, speed bumps, police staffing and visibility, even “uniformed security people on public transit.” Costa said it’s important to know what other cities are doing that works, “we don’t have to reinvent the wheel …” – just get something done.
Before leaving the topic of public safety, we asked her to clarify what she said early in the campaign about the 2020 proposals to defund police, as her opponent had brought it up in our conversation a few days earlier.
Costa replied, “I talked to Rob (Saka) and told him, you know I don’t want to defund the police, he knows now. There was a question in a Martin Luther King Labor Council forum, one of those rapid-fire questions … and the question was, at the time, in 2020, was it right for the City Council to pursue defunding the police, and my reaction was yes, at the time, more than 50 perdent of Seattle voters were asking for it, and the nation was screaming for it … that was a conversation that needed to be had … 7 of 9 (city councilmembers) voted for it but many have since (reconsidered) … I would likely be in that camp. Our country isn’t ready to defund – for one, we have too many guns on our streets to think we’re not going to need armed officers. We can’t be the Netherlands where you ca be an officer on the street with just a Taser or baton … we need a strong force . and an alternative response .. it’s a both/and, not either/or.”
With a few minutes left in our half-hour, we asked her about the newly released Draft Seattle Transportation Plan. She said she hadn’t read it yet. So we tried a more philosophical question – what’s the city’s role in shaping, and urging people toward, the transportation future, such as reducing reliance on single-occupancy vehicles?
Costa said, “We do need to move as quickly as possible away from SOVs.” But, she added, “getting everybody into EVs isn’t the solution either” – there would still be traffic, tire rubber polluting waterways – she foresees the importance of “a massive investment in public transit.”
What about the needs of the infrastructure we have? Costa says we need to “keep prioritizing” them and to look for opportunities to “upgrade” – fix sidewalks, potholes, etc.
We concluded by asking if there’s anything in which she differs from current Councilmember Herbold. She pointed to her background – she comes from “big business, big tech, running big teams, big budgets,” and has experience organizing for workers’ rights, “pressuring one of the biggest corporations and one of the world’s richest men … pressuring Amazon to do better on climate” and she vows to be “a strong advocate for working families – we need a city that works for everyone.” But, we asked, any ideological differences from the current councilmember, or things she would have done differently? She couldn’t think of anything on the spot, but concluded by saying she wants to be “present and responsive in our community” and “effective in making change.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Ballots go out Wednesday, October 18; voting ends Tuesday, November 7th. In the meantime, here’s the latest list of when you can see the candidates side by side at forums/debates.