By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
In just one week, ballots will be mailed out for the general election, and you can vote as soon as you get yours. The two West Seattleites contending in the highest-profile local race, Seattle City Council District 1, continue an intensive campaign schedule in the meantime, with another side-by-side Q&A forum Tuesday night.
This one was presented by Westside Interfaith Network, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the League of Women Voters, at OLG’s Walmesley Center, moderated by local journalist/broadcaster Brian Callanan (serving in a volunteer capacity). The questions for candidates Maren Costa and Rob Saka spanned a variety of topics; after an hour of asking questions planned by forum organizers, Callanan turned to audience questions submitted in writing during the event. (We counted about 40 people in attendance.)
Our video, unedited, starts and ends with the opening and closing statements from each candidate. Below it, we briefly summarize the questions and answers, in the order they were asked and answered.
Unless a phrase/sentence is within quotation marks, it’s our summary, not a direct quote, and we’ve kept our summaries to the portions of the replies that answered or attempted to answer the questions. For the full replies, watch the video.
Q: Do you agree with the drug-use bill recently passed by the City Council? Would you have made any changes?
COSTA: It seems “performative.” We don’t need more performative politics. we need to get things done. If you want to jail people for drug use, that won’t happen. If you want to provide diversion/treatment, that won’t happen, because we’re not funding programs. I’m 100 percent in favor of treatment, We need to fund the diversion programs. We cn lead with compassion and not tolerate harm.
SAKA: All the bill did was codify state law. I strongly support that. I collected petition signatures and testified in favor of the bill. I shouldn’t have to do gymnastics to get around people [drug users] and paraphernalia on the street. Too many people are dying in the streets. I strongly support it.
In rebuttals, Costa described Saka’s petition and council-meeting testimony as “performative” because he was urging Councilmember Lisa Herbold to support a bill she was already sponsoring. Saka said Costa didn’t support the bill; she said that was an inaccurate characterization of her position.
Q: D-1 has no homeless shelter. Is this a problem and how would you address it?
SAKA: It’s a challenge. Many places in the district are heavily impacted – Pioneer Square, SODO, WS. My community is bearing the brunt of a lot of challenges and opportunities. #1 is lack of access to affordable housing. Need to streamline permitting process. We can start with root cause but “we’re not going to root-cause our way out of this.” I do support encampment (sweeps).
COSTA: Where encampments could go, I would like each council district to offer three sites. The solution to this is pretty widely known. We need to build more housing, emergency housing, supportive housing, “even million-dollar condos, we need it all.” Saka will struggle to say how to pay for it. I want to be sure that price tag doesn’t land on the working class. We (currently) pile everything onto the property tax.
SAKA: Where are we going to find the money? I support an audit, streamlining and consolidating services, (not) a plan to tax more without being sure people are getting more bang for our budget buck.
COSTA: Read my plans. I worked at Amazon for 15 years, we had frugality as a principle. We can have an audit. I would like to see the mayor tell each of his direct reports, find 10 ways to save money.
Q: State House Bill 1110 – should it be applied for more multifamily housing in rich neighborhoods?
COSTA: This is coming up in the next Comprehensive Plan. I’ve spoken with those who worked on last plan – they said the next version should “plan for more housing.” We are decades behind because of zoning. The most forward-looking option is #5. It’s bare minimum. There’s an Alternate Plan 6 that some groups put together – I would like to investigate more.
SAKA: Yes. Affordability crisis is result of bad decisions 10 to 15 years ago, we need to add growth and density.. I support Comprehensive Plan option 5 – my opponent supports an option 6 which doesn’t actually exist.
In rebuttal, Costa said she didn’t want to derail work already done but says if another option better met the city’s needs, it would be “shortsighted” not to consider it.
Q: Has the Levy to Move Seattle been successful? would you support successive ilevy, how big should it be?
SAKA: Yes, I think it’s been fairly successful, added “a ton of bike lanes” – I’m here to focus on basics of what the city should do. – public infrastructure, public works … there’s a dire need for sidewalks – certain communities are struggling – east of Delridge, zero sidewalks – Arbor Heights too. I want to focus on sidewalks and bridge maintenance and repairs – I think “we’re good on bikes for now.”
COSTA: Would like to see it renewed – we’ve all seen and felt the pain – we need transit (light rail). We could do a more rigorous job of ensuring we’re not letting special interests impact what we’re doing here in the city … we build new things before we fix existing problems, and we’re heading into a budget shortfall – would like to see a source of funding (not just property taxes).
Q: What about impact fees? Do you support these? Could it support equitable transit?
COSTA: Need to be sure we’re not creating unexpected consequences – hope impact fees don’t slow down housing construction – we need to support Metro (and) protect our bus drivers.
SAKA: We need to be very thoughtful about implementation. Many jurisdictions have impact fees today, we don’t, need to weigh pros and cons but also need to create conditions where developers want to build here. Not only to play catchup but to plan ahead. If we impose something draconian, they might decide to go somewhere else. Need to make sure people feel safe to get on bus to begin with.
Q: Alternatives to sworn police officers. Do you support this? Why haven’t they been successful (in Seattle)?
SAKA: Yes. Formula for disaster … I support hiring more police but it doesn’t mean they need to respond to every single crisis situationn. I’ve met Amy Smith, new CARE department director, listened to the plans – here to build and scale and grow that – other cities like Albuquerque and Denver who have scaled and grown their programs. We don’t need to recreate the wheel and be first.
COSTA: Very excited about the new plan, Amy is doing a fantastic job … we are all ready for this, I hope to see it go through – yes, we need to hire more police, but we need to get behind new department. up to 50 percent of calls can move to this new department and we just doubled our police force overnight. The $7 million budget, though, is not enough.
Q: This is the first (District 1) election since boundaries were redrawn. What are the challenges of the new areas (in the district)?
COSTA: We have Beach Drive, the Duwamish, the Port, now we have added SODO and Pioneer Square – not a lot of voters in SODO but a lot of businesses there, with challenges including crime …Pioneer Square looks beautiful – there’s a new beach down there! – but food providers need help…
SAKA: It’s a beautiful district; I have immersed myself and gone to the neighborhoods – the district also has Georgetown and South Park, some of most polluted areas in country – need more public safety – a lot of people live in West Seattle and go to work in SODO, including my wife – there’s a lot of natural cross pollination.
Q: What committees would you serve on?
SAKA: Public Safety Committee, preferably as chair, thinking that would be an easy swap since current District 1 Councilmember Herbold chairs that committee. Also, having contributed to the “innovation economy,” whatever committee deals with economic development.
COSTA: “I want to be where i want to be of the most service,” depending on who gets elected to the council and what their strengths are. “It’s about making things work for the city – getting back to solving problems – bring people together – we need to get people talking to each other again.”
Q: Seattle recently passed a tree ordinance. Was it balanced?
COSTA: We shouldn’t be pitting trees against housing – this bill was a good example of, “move the ball down the road” – it’s better than it was before – we can continue to make it better – we can add density without sacrificing tree canopy.
SAKA: The process wasn’t as transparent as it should have been, was rushed through. It’s not grow and build vs. the trees … I released a climate plan, see it on my website – need a more transparent process.
Q: On police accountability, do you support an independent commission?
SAKA: Yes. I fought to hold bad police accountable – I’m the reason we have (King County) subpoena power for law-enforcement oversight — “I believe in good police and good oversight over police – doesn’t mean I don’t support police” …
COSTA: “I do support the highest levels of accountability we can manage” – would love to see SPOG [Seattle Police Officers Guild] contract reflect at least that level of accountability. She brought up the recent case of an officer recorded laughing after another officer hit and killed Jaahnavi Kandula.
In rebuttal/postscript, Saka said he’s the only candidate in this race who released a statement about those remarks – “that incident undermined confidence” in Seattle Police … Costa said, “When we don’t hold bad apples accountable, we’re demoralizing the good apples.” She also observed Generation Y and Z people are not flocking to police work because of concerns about the culture.
Q: Seattle needs housing for people earning 0-30 percent of the Area Median Income – do you see this coming to West Seattle?
COSTA: I will certainly be advocating for that. We need everything. Market forces left alone won’t provide level of affordable housing we need, government needs to step up. Yes, we need to ensure every dollar spent appropriately, and fix the tax code.
SAKA: Yes, I see this coming to West Seattle – a shared opportunity to diversify and densify our neighborhoods – notes the Admiral Church partnership with Homestead Community Land Trust – “I support things like that.”
The questions after this were suggested by attendees, in writing, during the forum.
Q: Seattle is facing a budget deficit. – which department would you look to cut, which revenue sources would you increase?
SAKA: Want to be sure current tax money is wisely used – people are not seeing results – we’re going to audit … do want to explore revenue sources, head tax, Jump Start – but (regarding property tax) “seniors have the right to retire in place” …
COSTA: I think we need to look at an “extreme capital gains tax,” need to turn up Jump Start, a vacancy tax is great, going to bring in $30 million …
Q: The question wondered about why juveniles apparently can’t be arrested for some crimes, and also wondered about (SPD) community-service officers.
SAKA: Not familiar with (juvenile) policies, will look into it, here to hire more police, can’t arrest because we don’t have enough. Also here to enforce the highest standards of excellence for police.
COSTA: Some unintended consequences when we can’t arrest juveniles, they’re used (by adults) to commit crimes … we want to be careful when we incarcerate them, but we need to hold them accountable … Regarding CSOs, we need more, would like them to be armed with nonlethal weapons.
In rebuttal/elaboration, Saka said, “Yes, we need more alternative responders but there is no substitute for police officers,” adding that we need more police to “restore good old-fashioned community policing.” … Costa said that innovation is vital rather than solely relying on police because “we can’t put public safety on hold until we can hire more.”
Q: Who is the city councilmember you have the most respect for and why?
COSTA: Not just one – Herbold is best at responding to emails; Teresa Mosqueda has passed legislation that has bubbled up to federal level.
SAKA: “I have a ton of respect for every last one of them.” Here to work with whomever else is on the council. Admires Tammy Morales for recent sidewalk proposal. Most closely aligned with Debora Juarez, Sara Nelson, and Alex Pedersen, who endorsed him earlier in the day.
Q: What was a bad decision the council made in past years?
SAKA: Defund. That vote was made with no African American councilmembers – it was supposed to benefit me – it was a failed experiment.
COSTA: (The new public-safety department) CARE is what we intended to do – wish we had done it then.
Q: How can the city effectively combat climate change?
COSTA: Climate resiliency hubs in every neighborhood, a safe place to go in an adverse weather event – all schools, all libraries – two other things = individual cars/trucks, the more we can reduce that, the better – and building emission performance standards; they must have teeth, or else we won’t make our 2030 goals.
SAKA: Strong energy-efficiency standards, trained workforce to build climate resilience – expand EV charging – expand our transit options, need to get people out of cars, but we also need to make people safe. Add tree canopy.
Q: Developers don’t want to buy land in Seattle and deal with all the fees and permitting, how will you change that?
SAKA: Look to what’s been successful elsewhere like Houston – need to reopen the permitting building, closed since pandemic.
COSTA: Process is kind of a nightmare, need to streamline, also reorganize the way things are – look at the boxes and arrows on an org chart that can change how things get done – (projects) get assigned a team, then a different team – we should keep the same team on a project all the way through.
Q: Does SPOG [police officers’ union] have too much power?
COSTA: Police officers hired to protect and serve, so many good apples, demoralized if bad apples not held accountable, need to ensure not jeopardizing public safety – need to ensure the city is safe.
SAKA: I support holding individual officers accountable – yes, SPOG has bloked some reform – on disciplinary measures, we do need to revisit what’s appropriate.
Q: Asked by a high-school student – today is Nat’l Mental Health Day, it’s Bullying Awareness Month, how will you deal with those issues?
SAKA: He was in the foster-care system because his mom had mental-health challenges – he will support and invest in additional services.
COSTA: She is parent of a child who “was suicidal and homicidal” – residential care saved him – there’s 80 beds – more kids need those – (what hospitals are available) is not enough – comes down to funding.
Q: How do we be sure each demographic is set up for a good future?
COSTA: Need to look at each age range, demographic, find out what’s important to then – user research and user experience design is what I did in big tech.
SAKA: I support ensuring seniors can retire in place and not be pushed out by next levy – I support exemptions. I wrote (King County) policy that it’s unlawful to discriminate against family caregivers and veterans.
Q: Are things working as envisioned with the bag tax and sugar tax?
SAKA: Not sure.
COSTA: Thinks the sugar tax is working and that overall “behavioral modification taxes are helpful.”
That was followed by closing statements, which you can watch on the video.
WHAT’S NEXT: Today (Thursday, October 12th), the candidates are scheduled for a lunchtime forum with the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, 11:30 am at Alki Masonic Center (40th/Edmunds), registration required.
ELECTION REMINDER: Your ballot could arrive as soon as one week from today. You’ll have until Tuesday, November 7th, to get it into a King County Elections dropbox or to get it postmarked in outgoing USPS mail. Need to register to vote? Go here.