ELECTION 2023: City Council Candidate Chats, round 2 – Maren Costa

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.

21 Replies to "ELECTION 2023: City Council Candidate Chats, round 2 - Maren Costa"

  • WS for 20 years September 15, 2023 (11:37 pm)

    Costa = Lisa Herbold 2.0. We cannot afford that. We need change.

    • The King September 16, 2023 (5:36 am)

      These candidates know very well what to say and position to take on everything to get elected in Seattle. It’s been proven time and time again, policies aren’t working and now it’s too late to expect different thinking candidates to show up. They know they don’t have a chance. So now we have folks chopping down trees in Ballard and dragging them down the street so they can have a fire going. I can never remember a time in my life where this city remotely resembled what it is today. 

  • Suzanne September 16, 2023 (1:48 am)

    There’s a very good reason that the remaining candidates unanimously endorsed Maren Costa. I don’t know what it is but this is unprecedented. I was a strong supporter of Saka but in their letter published here on WSB  on August 14th they said that in spite of serious policy differences they were behind Costa. For that reason, I’m voting for Costa — https://westseattleblog.com/?s=saka+endorse+ . 

    • WS FOR 20 YEARS September 16, 2023 (8:57 am)

      Hi Suzanne,You state there is a reason you are a strong supporter of Saka. That is probably the same reason that many former Mayors are supporters, and that the more balanced media, including The Seattle Times, endorse him.  The reason that all of those other candidates signed that letter is that Phil Tavel, who was the ring leader of that initiative, is a sore loser who feels that this was his chance, finally, and Rob Saka stole it from him.  Good politicians move on from loss gracefully. Tavel is acting more like Trump – the long arm of the loser, re-inserting himself into the democratic process.  Your comment above that “you don’t know” why they signed that letter is very telling – it is because the reason is petty and not based in policy, and thus they did not disclose it.  The other Costa concern is that her campaign, in addition to being anti-law enforcement no matter what she now says closer to the election, is based on a “I fought Amazon” platform.  That was also Sawant’s main policy.  We don’t need more of that.  We need a representative for this district at the city level who does not have polarized grudges that they will bring to office.  I am sure Saka is not perfect, but he will be balanced, which is what this city needs.

      • Kadoo September 16, 2023 (2:04 pm)

        Amen, WS for 20 Years!

      • Suzanne September 17, 2023 (2:13 am)

        Thank you for the additional information. I don’t see that either candidate is  up to the task but your comment helps clarify the dynamic. Saka often doesn’t answer direct questions, instead going to his talking points. But Costa is a vote for a more of the same  mess we have now with outgoing (thank goodness) Herbold. Was considering sitting this election out, which would have been a first for me. I’ll vote for Saka and hope for the best here. A point in his favor is that he and the mayor are on good terms. 

    • WS Resident September 16, 2023 (9:08 am)

      You don’t know why they endorse her but you decide to follow their lead? This is a bit scary Suzanne. I am sure there are evidence-based reasons for that. 

    • AlkiAdvocate September 19, 2023 (8:59 pm)

      Suzanne, I think we can all agree that the endorsement of Costa had a lot to do with emotion. We are all human, even candidates. What we all need to do is take a step back, take a breath, and look at the platforms of the candidates, and the histories of each. In the end, Rob Saka is what we need. You supported him in the beginning because you saw that his platform spoke to you. Reconnect with that belief and give him a chance to prove to you that you were right.

  • Robert September 16, 2023 (8:47 am)

    Both candidates are a problem. He’s all over the map. She’s all for crime reduction but not anything that will have short term results. My vote will go to the candidate most likely to vote with Sara Nelson. 

  • Fredrick September 16, 2023 (9:01 am)

    I wish politicians could do better than “evidence-based”.  That phrase just sounds so weasely and vauge, and ignores the plain fact that policy isn’t mostly made that way. We all want to hear that what we like is supported by objective fact, but we’ll vote what we feel regardless. (See Saka’s insistence on “but they defunded the police”, when in fact that proposed idea never got voted into policy.). I like Maren a lot but she is staking out a very status quo position here. 

    • Evidence September 16, 2023 (1:56 pm)

      I could get behind “evidence based” if it was something backed with data and not, as you say, weasle words.Here we see a concrete example of the latter – a vacancy tax in a city with a 0.9% homeowner vacancy rate would be even less helpful than Vancouver’s.  It doesn’t even come remotely close to making up the difference in housing units, and that’s assuming best case it works as planned.It would be like if someone asked “how are you going to make up a $100 million budget shortfall” and the reply was “stop having free coffee in the office” while neglecting to mention that the budget for that is $50k/yr.  It relies on the audience having no idea about the underlying numbers.

    • Steve September 16, 2023 (5:26 pm)

      Hmm, not sure I like that, “status quo” thing. That’s exactly why I’d be suspicious of her.

  • Plf September 16, 2023 (9:25 am)

    Ugh, not happy with either candidate,

  • D September 16, 2023 (11:48 am)

    Maren Costa gives the impression of being another faux activist whose only reason for running for office is for the publicity.  We don’t need to create another narcissist in power.

  • Steve September 16, 2023 (5:30 pm)

    Does Costa have the same endorsements that Herbold had? Are the same organisations endorsing her that endorsed Herbold? That’s all I really need to know, because I want someone who is so not Herbold.If only we didn’t have to choose between The Stranger, and The Times for our candidates. Alas, when only 30% of the voters bother casting a ballot in the primaries, we get the government we deserve. My gosh, that in a state that basically does everything for you except blot the paper!

    • WSB September 16, 2023 (6:21 pm)

      We don’t focus on endorsements – with a couple exemptions, such as the decisions made in an open meeting by our area’s largest political group, the 34th District Democrats. Last election, they endorsed Lisa Herbold. This time around, they endorsed Rob Saka. Anyway, candidates tend to list endorsements on their websites

  • Steve September 16, 2023 (5:58 pm)

    Both seemed surprisingly unprepared or uninformed. At this stage, you should have a very well developed answer to “how are you going to increase the number of police officers?”

    While it’s true, that there was never an approved initiative to defund the police you had most of City Council calling for it, attending rallies for it, talking about cutting certain rank/officers pay in half, and essentially driving out an excellent police leader at the time.

    You could be pretty sure that Saka did not realize (at least in that moment) that there was never an approved defund the police initiative.And Costa actually said there’s nothing we can do but catch up on hiring police officers over the next couple decades. Just not good enough.

    The use of the phrase “evidence-based” is disingenuous at best. I’d ask interviewers to have her cite the studies she is referring to every time she uses that phrase.  Then we can at least see if it exists, and if it’s applicable or not to the situation.

    Police don’t want to work here because they don’t feel supported, and it’s hard to think you’re making a difference when nobody wants to treat criminal behavior like criminal behavior.

    These two options are just not good choices for us. But ….

  • Scarlett September 16, 2023 (9:05 pm)

    Maybe the difficulty in hiring police officers is because police officers see the ugly disparity of wealth in this city and aren’t interested in being a goon squad for the wealthy – or not paid enough for the job.  Maybe they are tired of putting on the fake smiles, and staged commiseration, when secretly they are rolling their eyes at those of you who are tramautized by the sight of a homeless encampment.  Maybe they’re sick and tired of your insufferable petit bourgeosis attitutudes; I certainly am.  

    • Steve September 17, 2023 (10:13 am)

      You can ask officers.   It’s possible you are right, but I don’t think that’s what you’ll hear.  It’ll probably be closer to the other side of the spectrum.

  • Steve September 17, 2023 (11:08 am)

    Scarlett, I have a hard time feeling sympathy for police officers who start at 100K per year for a 19 1/2 hour work week. Add to that over time or time and a half, picking up shifts on off days for that extra pay, and a pension after 20 years. Note: their pensions aren’t reduced for retiring early.I also have a hard time with the fact that less than 7% of the SPD live in our city. The way I see it, they drive to Puyallup, Everett or North Bend  or wherever and listen to Talk Radio where they listen to how bad our town is.My first suggestion is to demilitarize the force, make their pension pay for misconduct, and encourage more to live in the city itself.

  • Costs for Costa September 18, 2023 (9:18 pm)

    Costa doesn’t think the SPD has exciting enough incentives to get officers who actually want to help the public? Not impressed with either but this idea she tried to talk around is a dog whistle that she’ll coddle the corruption that is RAMPANT in SPD. Maren Costa, Yes man for Adrian Diaz and probably the winner for the seat. How disappointing. 

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