With the August 4th primary just around the corner and ballots soon arriving in the mail, candidates in the District 3 race have just a few precious weeks to make their case to voters before the five contenders are whittled down to two. We’ve reported on two Council District 3 candidate forums so far this year and covered many other facets of this historic election. Now it’s time for CHS readers to ask some questions.
In this digital candidate forum, questions were suggested by CHS readers, selected by CHS editors, and finalized by an online vote before we provided them to the campaigns. LGBT safety, increasing building heights, and creating an I-5 lid are just a few of the topics readers chose.
City Council member Kshama Sawant, Pamela Banks, Morgan Beach, and Rod Hearne all responded to our survey. Lee Carter did not — though we plan to reach out to the candidate to see if we can find another way to get his answers onto the page. Candidates were welcome to answer as much or as little of the survey as they wished.
While an online forum inevitably invites more carefully crafted responses, the upshot is you don’t have to trudge out to a gym in Madison Valley to hear them. Also, no superfluous closing statements. So, saddle up with you’re beverage of choice and let’s get this forum started.
CHS DISTRICT 3 CANDIDATES FORUM
Q1: How will you promote an inclusive neighborhood and what steps will you take to end LGBT hate crimes in Capitol Hill?
Banks: There is no excuse for crime of any kind in our neighborhood – especially hate crimes targeting specific groups. The recent increase in violence against the LGBT community on Capitol Hill is extremely disheartening. Capitol Hill has been – and should continue to remain – a refuge for those who do not feel safe, welcome or at home in other neighborhoods. The immediate response to the violence is an increase in police presence during peak crime hours. I am confident in the new leadership at SPD and the reform strategies in place, but we must continue to monitor and promote improvements when necessary. SPD has taken positive steps to work with the business community, implementing the Safe Places program. We need more, better-trained, and more community-focused police officers on the SPD who are working closely with the dozens of LGBT advocacy organizations in Seattle to create a truly safe space for the community. Promoting inclusiveness in our community is also essential to decreasing violence. As a city neighborhood liaison and Mayoral Director of Outreach, I know we need to involve our local neighborhood groups, businesses and residents. You can count on me to have the tough conversations we need to have as a community to promote public safety and accountability. I will provide an open door for all.
Beach: With great pressure and expansion comes fear and reaction to change. This has resulted in the last year of much rhetoric that creates exclusivity rather than inclusivity, and that is not D3. Who we are in D3 and Capitol Hill are the people who accept everyone, who will welcome you in when you had no where else to go or when you moved here to be a part of a city, neighborhood and community that felt that way. That wasn’t just “tolerant,” it was accepting. I plan to support to innovative ideas of the area residents and businesses that build this inclusivity from the ground up, like at Capitol Hill Clean Sweep, when I was out in my “I Am Capitol Hill” tshirt and campaign button cleaning streets with you, or marching in Trans*Pride and the Pride Parade. I will work to increase the public safety of our neighborhoods via soft power like the “Here and Queer” projection project during Pride, and hard power like the Safe Place program with our LGBTQIA liaison officers at the SPD to protect every him, her and them on the Hill.
Hearne: Symbols matter and connecting community by telling our story matters. I’m proud that the city has literally marked our territory on Capitol Hill with the inclusive symbol of the rainbow sidewalks. The LGBTQIA community has always conceived of the rainbow symbol as meaning to include all people, Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer/Questioning.., Intersex and Allies. One of the most effective ways we’ve been able to affect attitudes toward civil rights has been to provide opportunities to tell our story. That’s what arts and culture are all about: telling our stories in unexpected, yet accessible ways. It’s not just about engaging understanding with the LGBTQIA community. It’s about helping all communities, minorities, immigrants, everyone tell their story. Therefore, I believe we need to invest more as a city into arts and cultural organizations and venues in which we can support them. Arts and Culture are Seattle’s superpower and we should activate it!
Sawant: To keep the hill affordable rather than simply an enclave for the wealthy we need urgent action on the housing crisis. Skyrocketing rents are rapidly displacing the LGBT community, young people, and working class people. We need rent control, we need to make big developers pay to build thousands of units of affordable city-owned housing, and we need to strengthen tenants rights. We also need to defend the new minimum wage, relied upon by thousands of Capitol Hill residents working in service, retail, medical and hospitality jobs as well as workers who commute to Capitol Hill. As part of this effort, we need to fully fund the Office of Labor Standards to help in the fight against wage theft and discrimination at work. We need to fund community anti-hate crime groups to organize night watches and raise awareness through anti-bullying and public education efforts. We need to fund a community-based hate violence information-gathering hotline. We need self-defense and other community based responses as recommended by Entre Hermanos, The Northwest Network for BTLG Survivors of Abuse, Gender Justice League, and the Center for Multicultural Health. This spring, I joined with the GSBA, YouthCare, Seattle Social Outreach, the Capitol Hill Community Council, the Gender Justice League, SEqual, Peace for the Streets, and others in organizing a forum against LGBTQ hate crimes in Capitol Hill. One of the clear demands from our event was for an LGBTQ community center to be created on the Hill for LGBTQ empowerment and education.
Banks: In my work at the Urban League I’ve addressed some of the root causes of homelessness, like a lack of educational opportunities and joblessness. We need to invest in job training and placement, in counseling and after-school programs for at-risk youth, in drug prevention and treatment, and in mental health treatment. I have experience working with the City and Seattle non-profits to implement these exact types of programs.
Beach: What was has happened here in Seattle is that the estimated 10,000 people experiencing homelessness is no longer extraordinary. It’s just ordinary. We no longer feel compelled to fix it. Nothing tells me the system is broken more clearly than that. I have a number of ideas that to date are actions we can take immediately that to date have not been acted upon by City Council: We need to stop keeping homeless encampments out of residential neighborhoods and in industrial zones where we don’t allow any other type of housing to be built. We need to build emergency housing now. No bars, housing. It is embarrassing that other cities are leading us in progressive housing first policy. Build an LGBTQ Youth Shelter for those 40% of LGBTQ youth who identify that they have been homeless as least once. Build more family sized shelter and transitional housing so families can stay together. Build a better system to manage shelter placement so that it is real time and you can find beds anywhere in the city. Expand renter protections so people aren’t forced into homelessness including limiting the use of criminal background checks to exclude people from housing applications, expanding rights for eviction and relocation assistance, and creating a single tenant screening system so you don’t have to pay applications fees continuously to get rejected from housing over and over.
Hearne: It’s necessary to engage the broader community in homelessness, especially at the regional and state level. Utah (Utah!) has made progress on ending homelessness because they took a broader, more systematic approach. If it can happen in right-wing Utah, we should be able to work toward solutions here. I strongly support a housing-first approach so it’s easier to provide the mental health, education and addiction recovery services that many homeless people need. Our current approach has too many silos and does little to prevent homelessness. One way to improve things is by illuminating the fact that the way we are addressing the problem now is more costly and least effective. What does is say about a society that chooses the most costly option despite the fact that it is also the least humane? We need to find ways of preventing homelessness throughout the state, not just in Seattle, if we’re going to make headway. Let’s look to models that have proven effective and build the will to implement them statewide. The greater Seattle area is a ~$300 billion / year economy on par with Denmark and Finland. It’s not a matter of lack of resources, it’s a matter of lack of compassion.
Sawant: Last Fall I launched a People’s Budget coalition to fight to fully fund human and social services. When the Seattle Human Services Coalition put forward a funding recommendation during the budget process, I proposed, and argued for it to be adopted in its entirety. I will do so again this year. A budget is a moral document, and the lack of funding for human services while billions are spent on business-approved projects like the Bertha boondoggle shows the upside-down priorities of the corporate political establishment in Seattle. Homelessness needs to be addressed at its roots, which are poverty, lack of quality accessible health care, and lack of affordable housing. Seattle recently passed a landmark $15 minimum wage which will raise the fortunes of 100,000 people in this city. However it won’t be enough. Waiting lists for low-income housing in our city are years long. We need to build more affordable housing, both for the people who are currently homeless, and for those on the verge of homelessness, paying huge percentages of their income in rent, just to stay near their family and community. Housing is a human right. We need to fully fund an emergency plan to immediately offer decent shelter for the more than 3,000 homeless people on Seattle’s streets.
Banks: Rent control means two things to me. The first is a policy of rent control where maximum rents are enforced and increases are limited. As it stands, this is prohibited by state law. The second meaning to me is a collection of strategies designed to increase housing affordability and keep folks from getting priced out of their apartments and neighborhoods. As city officials, we currently have strategies that we can pursue to accomplish what people want: the freedom to choose where they want to live and when they want to move. I will not declare one specific policy to be the one-and-only solution for our housing affordability crisis – that would be disingenuous. But I promise to work with others in our community who are experienced in housing affordability strategies and programs on solutions that we can achieve together.
Beach: In my opinion and the policy implementations around the country I’ve seen, rent control is a policy that protects few and creates overall negative effects on rental prices. I would prioritize mandatory inclusionary zoning, linkage fees to ensure developers are required to contribute to the affordable housing stock, incentivizing building 2-3 bedroom units in new multi-unit construction to keep families and shared households in our district, and extending up-zones to increase density in our area so more people can live the desirable urban life of District 3.
Hearne: RCW 35.21.830: “… provisions which regulate the amount of rent to be charged for single-family or multiple-unit residential rental structures or sites other than properties in public ownership, under public management, or properties providing low-income rental housing under joint public-private agreements for the financing or provision of such low-income rental housing…”
Sawant: Rent control is a lifeline for many working people in cities which have it. Rent is already controlled, but unfortunately in Seattle it’s controlled exclusively by the developers and big property owners who are causing massive displacement. With the rapidly rising cost of living, neighborhoods should not be ripped apart by profit-obsessed developers and landlords. Councilmember Licata and I put forward a resolution calling for the state to lift its ban on rent control. The city would benefit from implementing comprehensive, city-wide rent control that would limit yearly rent increases to the cost of inflation. We need to oppose the loopholes developers created in cities like San Francisco such as “vacancy decontrol”, which allows developers to jack up rents as much as they like when tenants leave, and creates additional incentives for no-fault tenant evictions. We need rent control because the private housing market has completely failed us and renters need a defense against skyrocketing housing costs.
Banks: Yes! A pedestrian-only zone is one promising – and fun – solution to address the crowds of people and cars on Pike/Pine between Broadway and 12th on weekend evenings. Pedestrian zones have been well-received in Portland and in many other cities. It is important that as the plan progresses the community is involved – residents living in the immediate areas should have a say, businesses should be involved and any programming should be neighborhood-approved – but that is currently being done and I am excited about the positive potential for a very busy part of our District.
Beach: I would support this coinciding with a comprehensive plan to redirect traffic and bikes, commercial loading for the Pike/Pike business corridor or potentially making it pedestrian only during peak times, like evenings and nightlife access. Especially with the large transit projects of the First Hill Street Car and Light Rail station going in, it is a great time to evaluate making a change to a pedestrian only zone.
Hearne: In the evening Pike and Pine between Broadway and 12th Ave E already operates much like a woonerf or “living street” already (a street where pedestrians dominate to the point where cars are forced to a crawl). If it works for stakeholders along those blocks to formalize that, we should do it.
Sawant: Yes. It’s imperative to promote a walkable Capitol Hill. We especially need a safe, open pedestrian space for Capitol Hill’s vibrant culture, arts and social core. The so-far-successful model in Vancouver’s Granville Mall is downtown and does not block arterial roadways, though it is a hub for busses and transit. In the past such projects have been shelved due to concerns about loss of revenue – and a reason it hasn’t been done in the U-District on The Ave. During the pilot project, the impact on adjacent small businesses should be monitored.
Banks: We must encourage and incentivize developers to build more affordable units, work with non-profit organizations to increase their ability to provide housing, and fund more affordable units in desirable neighborhoods. Unfortunately this is an incredibly complex problem that isn’t going to be solved overnight. I’m looking forward to the reviewing the recommendations of the Mayor’s Housing Affordability Committee. I’m most interested in making sure that we adequately increase our affordable housing stock, while maintaining what Seattle represents – a collection of distinct, character-filled neighborhoods.
Beach: I know this will seem not broad reaching enough to some but my campaign’s top priority is gender wage equity. Let me tell you why: In the city of Seattle, $16,000 a year is the median wage gap between men and women. At the area median rent, that $16,000 is enough to pay for the rent for an entire year AND then some. In the last ten years there has been an increase in the number of women living below the poverty line and we will not reach pay equity at the current pace in my working lifetime. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research just last month stated that nationally, fixing the wage gap between men and women could cut the poverty rate in half for families with working women. This is an economic, affordability, housing and social justice issue that has been a part of our legacy for too long. And if we focused on this, the city would become more affordable for half of the city and once we fix this gap between and among women, we can build a better system on top of it.
Hearne: One of the quickest things we can do to improve affordability is to encourage more accessory dwelling units and mother-in-law apartments. Hundreds of homes could be added. One of the ironies is that some of the older single family home neighborhoods, may be less dense now than they once might have been since family sized are smaller. Making it easer to convert some spaces to mother-in-laws would go a long way to providing more housing without overburdening parking and transportation infrastructure. There are many more steps, of course: renewing the Housing Levy, improving transportation broadening wage growth to other types of jobs, but it’s a first step.
Sawant: Private development has utterly failed to address the housing crisis in District 3. While Capitol Hill’s skyline is increasingly crowded with construction cranes and luxury condos, most of us face a severe housing crisis. We need a major expansion of genuinely affordable housing. To do that, we need to make the big developers pay the maximum “linkage fee” and use the city’s excess bonding capacity. The maximum linkage fee would raise $1 billion over 10 years’ time and could be used to build thousands of city-owned, permanently affordable, below market-rate apartments for working people. A city bond for affordable housing could raise another $1 billion. But what is lacking is the political will to stand up against the developers and their lobbyists, who have long dominated Seattle’s government, and who give tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funding yearly to corporate candidates and politicians. I take no corporate donations, and am not beholden to them. I rely entirely on the support of ordinary people.
Banks: Increasing height limits is one aspect of a complex and multi-faceted approach to increase affordability in District 3. It’s clear that we have a housing shortage and need more affordable housing options. It’s also clear that most of the new buildings going up are not affordable for average working Seattleites. I believe our conversations and strategy regarding increasing housing affordability in District 3 should not leave any options off the table, including the heights of our buildings.
Beach: I’m a supporter of density in our growth plans. We can do this by expanding our up-zones (increasing allowable building heights in certain mixed-use corridors), and increasing density in single family zones by relaxing restrictions on accessory units and supporting a range of duplexes, townhomes and courtyard developments that will build density and not make us exclusively a city of high rises. But we are geographically restricted and facing over 100,000 people moving here in the next 20 years. We need more housing and we need it to start now in order to maintain a balanced focus on creating a beautiful built environment as a priority in our neighborhoods and building sufficient housing for our growing population.
Hearne: I believe the more we can do to increase the supply of housing to meet the demand for housing, the more that we can reduce pressure for increasing in prices. But it will only work if the up-zoning occurs in conjunction with improvements in infrastructure, like transportation and parks.
Sawant: Increased building heights without a plan to build affordable housing will not increase affordability. Developers will build to make the maximum profit which is made by building and leasing luxury apartments. All of the new development in Capitol Hill has not made it more affordable, nor have the incentive zoning solutions. We need real solutions like making big developers pay the maximum “linkage fee” to build affordable housing, strong tenants rights, and rent control.
Banks: This is a very personal issue for me. In recent weeks, my neighborhood has been plagued by a series of shootings, one fatal. Over the years I’ve developed a very good working relationship with the SPD. I was on the committee that helped to select Chief O’Toole. I also raised a son in Seattle, living with the fear that he would have negative interactions with the SPD because he was black. The SPD has made some very visible mistakes, which has undermined trust in the community. To rebuild that trust, the disciplinary process for officers must be transparent and efficient. Bad cops should be punished, removed from the SPD when necessary, and the community needs to feel that justice is being done. Most of Seattle’s police officers are good people trying to do a difficult job. We should support them with more training and additional officers. We need to implement strategies to ensure that they are respected members of the community before those calls come in-serving food at soup kitchens, holding office hours, leading CPR trainings, or mentoring school children. Traditional policing can’t solve all the problems of crime, disorder, and fear that affect our neighborhoods. I believe that a community-based approach can help to repair the relationship between police and community, and to improve safety overall.
Beach: I believe in making civilian involvement a permanent part of police disciplinary review process, by making the Community Police Commission a permanent body. I also believe we need more Community Outreach Officers to increase their presence in the community without becoming an occupying force to only respond in the height of crises. I would also support expanding programs like the city’s innovative Refugee Women’s Project which brought together active women in the city’s refugee communities to introduce female police officers to refugee women throughout the community to build trust. Now those women have friendly faces of police officers to call and trust when they are unsafe, victims or crime or want to help other members of their community. We need police officers who are a part of our community, care about it and show it in a way that translates to all our residents. As unglamorous as it is, the first thing I would do to rebuild SPD is to work with Chief O’Toole to restructure the hiring process to increase significantly the diversity and hiring those who live in the city and have to come home to these streets at night too.
Hearne: We need to create more opportunities for police officers to interact and engage with community members in non-law enforcement settings. There is a sense that the police treat the people of the city like an occupying force might–culturally insensitive and without understanding the community. We need to make more of an effort to recruit from within our community, not outside of it. Affordability may be part of the problem, but there are tens of thousands of people living within the city limits who’d love to make a police officer’s salary, so that’s not a credible excuse. It will require a concerted community outreach effort on the part of the Department and should be coordinated with the Council District Representatives and the Mayor’s office, without grandstanding.
Sawant: Seattle needs an elected, community oversight boards that has full powers over SPD policy, including department policies and procedures. In addition, the SPD should open its books for a full audit of where its $300 million a year is being spent. We need real oversight and transparency over the largest portion of the city budget.
Banks: I think that we’re going to have to have development impact fees to offset some of the effects of large developments in central area neighborhoods. Right now Capitol Hill businesses are struggling because sidewalks are blocked and parking is non-existent in some areas. People simply can’t get to them. Studies on the impact of Developer Impact Fees is mixed, so the challenge is going to be finding an appropriate level to encourage necessary growth in the central area while mitigating negative consequences and funding adequate public infrastructure improvements.
Beach: I believe we need to address a plan that does mitigate the impact of these projects, with a particular focus on accessibility for those with mobility, vision, hearing or other disabilities that limits their access to business areas under construction in District 3. Construction redirection places significant burden on people, especially those with disabilities and creates safety concerns in areas of the district where additional crosswalks and pedestrian infrastructure is sparse. I don’t know if a developer fee is the most sustainable model for mitigating this impact, but would rather see a consistent commitment from the general fund to address accessibility issues as a civil rights matter and if we do have developer fees as a tool I would like to use them to the greatest end possible, which right now I believe is in the creation of affordable housing units at the bottom end of the area median income spectrum (0-40% AMI).
Sawant: Absolutely. I support enacting the maximum linkage fees allowed by state law: 10%. With development comes necessary infrastructure and accommodation of new people: pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, open spaces and their maintenance, and safe easy access to public transportation.
Banks: Capitol Hill specifically has too little alley space to meet the needs of a dense population, thriving restaurant scene, and intensive construction. There is literally nowhere for the trash to go but out into the sidewalks and streets – already clogged areas. We could help to mitigate this problem with smaller cans collected more frequently. And for the new developments, we need to encourage better waste disposal planning during the construction phase and use of trash compactors.
Beach: To be frank the current business improvement area (BIA)–which pays for much of this in areas where there is the most resident and business activity and creates dirty streets and garbage–that covers Capitol Hill is completely insufficient. It ends before the Pike/Pine corridor. Why? Because the current BIA is OLDER THAN ME. Is doesn’t reflect our current way of doing business or the way we live our lives in D3, and we haven’t had focused representation from anyone on city council to try to work with the area to change the situation. I would work to expand the BIA with all the areas of Cap Hill business to fix this, including not only Pike/Pine but the expanding business corridors on 12th, 15th and 19th Aves. We need to not only address our built environment issues now, but plan for the future as we welcome more residents and visitors to the neighborhood than ever before.
Hearne: It sometimes appears cheaper to cut back on services like garbage pickup and street sweeping in the short term, but over the long term, it costs the city too, in making the city less livable. It’s important to consider the costs of lost business, tourism and livability when making cutbacks to essential sanitation services. I believe Business Improvement Associations can be part of the solution, but it can lead to inequities with less advantaged neighborhoods. It’s wrong for the city to encourage BIAs as a way of avoiding responsibility for public sanitation.
Sawant: The biggest single reason Seattle lacks some of the services of other cities is the highly regressive tax structure in Washington State that is continued and enforced by the big business politicians. Working people in WA shoulder a higher percentage of taxes than any other state in the country. Using progressive taxes like a corporate head tax, parking lot taxes, and a millionaire’s tax, we could raise the funds to put more people to work keeping the city clean. One part of this is fully funding the parks department to make sure our parks are kept up and provide the services that make our neighborhoods comfortable, green, and vibrant. The city budget needs to put greater emphasis on basic services and de-prioritize business-approved vanity projects. We need to tax the rich and big business, but to do so we need elected representatives that don’t take corporate donations, and who have the political will to make it happen.
Banks: Yes, the convention center expansion should be an opportunity for Capitol Hill – not just Downtown. It would not only provide a greater connection, but it would increase the quality of life for those living and working near the highway. Several cities have undertaken similar projects successfully.
Beach: I would weigh a lid with the potential planned expansion of a business improvement area and changes in our funding for transit infrastructure for Cap Hill. There is going to be significant impact with the Convention Center expansion into D3, and now would be a good time to look at adding a lid to the area. However, I think bearing the cost of both a lid, the Move Seattle Levy for transit investment and a BIA fee expansion simultaneously could place a heavy burden on the small businesses and residents that make our district unique and vibrant. My priority first is an expanded BIA and mass transit projects to make it easier and more affordable to get around our entire city, and then I would look at the viability of a lid to compliment the area.
Sawant: Yes. We need better and safer pedestrian throughways between Capitol Hill and downtown, not treacherous vertical expeditions up and over an exhaust-filled canyon in inclement weather. A ‘lid’ extension to the North and open areas should not be a repeat of a private mall for the affluent. Rather, it should be an extended public center that reconnects downtown with Capitol Hill.
Banks: Working as the Outreach Director for the City, I earned a reputation for transparency, accessibility, and accountability. I’ve always had an open door policy, and I am making that my pledge to all District 3 residents. I plan to hold office hours in District 3 at coffee shops and community centers to make it easier for people to reach me. And I will encourage – and facilitate – projects for us all to work together on the issues and challenges that matter to us as a District.
Beach: I believe in having Districts for the first time, it is more important than ever to have an open and collaborative city hall. We need a door that’s open to all our neighbors, not just the friends and supporters of the City Councilmember. I make that promise to you, to listen, to be present and to learn from your experiences as well as my own. To respond to every phone call, email, facebook message or meeting request I get, as I have done through this entire campaign. Because this is District 3 and we have big visions for social justice and the future, like being the first city in the country to reach gender equity, but every person needs to feel a part of that and bring their voice and experiences to city hall through their councilmember.
Hearne: It’s inevitable that District representatives will be expected respond to constituent needs. As someone who’s worked customer service for over two decades, I know how to create systems to respond quickly, and individually to constituent requests.
Sawant: My council office has and will continue to help the thousands of people who have called and emailed. I will continue to do more to engage ordinary people in city politics than any other elected official, and reach out to listen to the community about its needs and concerns. As a councilmember, I have involved thousands of ordinary people by holding four town halls on the most important issues in the city, building coalitions like the People’s Budget, and bringing countless people into City Hall for the first time to fight for their interests. 600 people attended the affordable housing town hall that Councilmember Licata and I put on. 300 people packed the anti-hate crime town hall on Capitol Hill. I have lent support to numerous progressive movements in Seattle, discussing the issues with activists and ordinary citizens. I will continue to forge relationships with all the local unions, community groups, activists, environmentalists, native peoples, and small businesses, so that we can work together to make Seattle affordable for all.