The mayor of Capitol Hill 2017: Cary Moon Q&A

CHS: Alright lets jump in. Yeah, I don’t know. Do you ever read interviews with candidates? I always find them kind of boring.

Moon: Yeah. Because everybody’s so careful, they say all the positive things.

CHS: Yeah. And there’s not anything that has to change that at all. But I do try… Well, I’ll try and ask more Capitol Hill kinda, Central District kinds of things. I’m curious to know — can you set the stage for me instead of me trying to write… Where are we in Seattle’s history? And what’s going on? What’s the state of this city right now?

Moon: Yeah. I think what started off as feeling like, “Wow, we’re so popular. Wow, we’re thriving when so many places aren’t.” And the feeling of excitement and satisfaction and being part of the winning team. I think that quickly turned to, “Oh my God. What’s going on?” And, “Can I afford to live here?” And, “Are my kids going to be able to live here?” And, “What are we doing to our creative soul?” And you know everybody is freaking out because all of a sudden, it doesn’t feel like we’re in control of this. We’re not guiding the future of our city. It’s happening to us, not by us and for us and that is scary and people feel all kinds of insecurity. They feel housing insecurity. They feel economic insecurity. They feel like, “Is this my culture? Is this like the Seattle I love?” Or, “Is that completely evaporating?” And so people are scared.

Unchained by a damaging sex abuse scandal that removed incumbent Ed Murray from a powerful pole position, 21 candidates are vying this summer to be the next mayor of modern-day Pacific Northwest boomtown Seattle, Washington. Of those 21, only two will survive the first round cut from the August 1st primary. CHS may be on a summer news break but we couldn’t resist opportunities to talk with the candidates most likely to be on the mind of Capitol Hill voters in the coming weeks: Jenny Durkan, Nikkita Oliver, Cary Moon, Bob Hasegawa, Mike McGinn, and Jessyn Farrell. The interviews were conducted in recent weeks at locations across the city including coworking spaces, campaign offices, and a diner. The talks varied but revolved around a core set of Seattle issues: Black Lives Matter, affordability, addiction, and homelessness. We have edited the conversations for clarity and length.

“That wealth is being extracted away from the community…”

Below, CHS talks with Cary Moon, the urbanist and civic leader who was the Co-Founder and Director of the People’s Waterfront Coalition. Moon carries the endorsement of The Stranger into the August Primary. CHS spoke with her about the state of the city, her approach to building our way out of the affordability crisis, and whether City Hall should help make sure Pike/Pine bars and restaurants can pay their rent. You can learn more at carymoonformayor.com.

CHS: But these are the good times, aren’t they? I mean we’re doing financially very well.

Moon: Okay, if you look at GDP, style gross metric, sure. But that doesn’t tell a story of what’s happening on the ground. Because on the ground we’re creating credible wealth through our sky rocketing property values through the profits that are being made by mostly big corporations — some small businesses, too — but that corporation wealth is not circulating back into the community. That wealth is being extracted away from the community and so instead of a healthy economy where everybody benefits and everybody who’s part of building the profits gets to share in the profits and businesses are locally owned so wealth they create gets circulated back in new investment or expansion. That’s what we typically think of, of a booming economy. That’s not what’s happening here.

CHS: Capitol Hill… I don’t know what do you think about it. In some ways I feel like it symbolizes I guess that version of Seattle of what you just described. Is that kind of how you think about this?

Moon: This has been a significant cultural center and creative center for the city for a long time. And all of a sudden, that is really at risk and people are holding on by their fingernails because it’s unaffordable.

CHS: Then also, though I know people like I live right in the edge right between North Capitol Hill that can vary in what we think of Capitol Hill. And a lot of people are really wealthy and doing really well right now and would say you’re crazy.

Moon: There, there are a few people like that, but I think in Seattle we have this fairly uniform and fairly deep commitment to progressive values. And I think in the last 20 years, what that means got focused on social issues and not economic issues and we need to bring it back to progressive economy too. That you can’t be for just progressive social causes and not be a progressive economy. And we lost track of that in the past 20 years and now it’s time to reassert that because I think in our hearts we all want our city to work for everybody. We all care about the well being of one another. And folks who are doing well, I think a lot of them are appalled at what’s happening and they want to be part of the solution too.

CHS: And what about a neighborhood like the Central District — what’s going on at 23rd and Union? How’s that different than what you’re seeing for a neighborhood like with Capitol Hill? It seems like its opportunities are different and it’s at a different kind of… I don’t know, inflection point or whatever you wanna call it.

Moon: I hope there’s still time. Because there are processes that we could be using that are more about equitable growth, that before we approve a new development, we sit down with the community. And we talk about how the new development can benefit the community, how the affordable spaces can be made available to folks from the community, how the cultural spaces and retail spaces can be made available to the activities of the community, and the business owners in the community. You can do these kinds of agreements up front that help development be more equitable, so I think absolutely throughout the Central District and all of South Seattle, we absolutely need to do that. Because otherwise, if you just let the free market decide, if you just let whoever has the most money make the decisions, you don’t get healthy society that way.

“Housing is something the city needs to protect and needs to manage…”

CHS: How do you help people through things that are going to be painful for them? I don’t know. Are you NIMBY or YIMBY? And what do you think about those kinds of labels and people who, whether they want to be one or the other clearly show manifestations of those labels? I talk to people all the time who would tell me, “I’m not a NIMBY and I don’t want this happening here.”

Moon: I think we have to go deeper. I don’t like the labels. We have to go deeper and have understanding, what’s our common enemy? Because the issue with speculation in our housing market is a significant driver of our unaffordability problem. We have the hottest housing market in the country, it’s hotter than any stock on Wall Street. Everybody with money sees that, and they come here and invest, and that itself causes price escalation. So, we have got to get ahead of that with disincentives and reclaim housing for us, for the people who live here, and housing is something the city needs to protect and needs to manage. We don’t have a housing policy. We need a housing policy.

CHS: I am interested in the profiteering and the foreign buying. I know it’s not even fair to even put that label on it. It’s corporate buying also.

Moon: Right. Corporate and non-resident owners is what I call it.

CHS: What proof do you have? Have you seen that it’s happening?

Moon: I have. We don’t have visible data. We have anecdotes, and I have had a lot of conversations with realtors who see it happening. They say, “Okay, here’s a middle-income, modest house, and we got 50 families lined up to buy it. And some of them have $200,000 to put down and they get outbid by corporations and shell companies who pay in cash.” We have anecdotes. I’ve given the city a list of data we need. We need to understand how many homes are being bought by shell companies, LLCs, corporations, anything that’s not a human person buying a house to live in. We need to understand how many properties are vacant. We need to understand how many properties are bought and then sold again within a year or two. We need to understand how many homes are not… They don’t check the box saying, “This is a primary residence.” We need to get all that data historically over time and see what’s happening and how, and then we’ll understand exactly the scale and the scope and the dynamics of this process. But right now, all we have is anecdotes and the story of other cities. Vancouver, Manhattan, Sydney, Miami. This is happening every world-class city in the country and in the world because there’s so much global Capitol and there’s a lot of interest in parking money in real-estate.

CHS: And so when it gets shut down in Vancouver… I know it’s so early it’s still in the process, but I guess the early returns on what they’ve done in some ways, you feel like it’s been successful there?

Moon: It’s hard to tell, but the price escalation stopped. The volume of sales slowed back to a trickle, but it’s still going on. I heard a story the other day of somebody sold a modest little bungalow for 3 million dollars and the whole block was bought and it’s being replaced with town homes that are expected to all continue to be foreign ownership, non-resident ownership. And so, it didn’t stop it all together but it seems to have slowed it a lot. And the prices stopped it.

12:21 CHS: This is why I ruin interviews because it’d be much easier to move on but I want to stay here. It’s hard to ask, “How big of a problem is this really?” because it sounds… it’s awful, of course it’s a huge problem, but it is very interesting like just following the lines. I’ve found a couple of houses on Capitol Hill and followed the paper. One of them I found friends. It was their Airbnb house. They now live in the Central District. What I wonder is if the scary person at the end of the story is…

Moon: Is us.

CHS: Partly us.

Moon: I think if we’re going to get ahead of this, we have to change our culture around who we want to be as a city and we have to set a positive future vision that we want our city to be welcoming, inclusive, creative, and committed to broad prosperity. We need to set a vision and we need to define an action plan to get there. We need to understand what to do about rebuilding the small business economy, around housing affordability, around racial equity. There’s a lot of integrated strategies we need to be identifying and pursuing. And I would like to share that with all the people of Seattle, build it together with them and then share it and say this is our commitment. These are our action items. These are our metrics. This is what everybody can do to help and build this sense of collective endeavor and commitment to this vision because right now we are in this mode of everybody… Our politics is about everybody watching out for themselves and I don’t think that matches our values. I think our values are about our city and our society and our economy and taking care of one another and being able to look each other in the eye and say, “We’re so happy we live here. What a great place we’ve created” and be the progressive alternative to Donald Trump’s nightmare. Because if we don’t do it, who’s going to do it, you know?

CHS: So I’ve seen your twitter feed, and I know you live downtown, but the imagery so far from the twitter feed, you did like a backyard neighbor tour and stuff like that, right? We’ve talked a lot about the kind of corporate impact on a real estate market and to me that sounds like single family homes and I know that’s not all you’re about. You’re about housing, hoping, for everybody. It feels like a big thrust for you, of course, is this fighting back on corporate influence on the real estate market, but what about on the renter’s market? How does that help renters, or is there some other way to help?

Moon: So they’re really integrated because in our city we have a lot of people with pretty good tech jobs. We are not offering them housing to buy because it’s been, prices have escalated, or some of it was taken off the market by these corporate buyers who are renting it out at high rates. And we’re not building condos because of our liability issue. So we have this pent up demand for people who would really like to buy a house or a condo, but can’t. And so that means there are too many people in the rental market for how many rents we have. So it causes escalation in the rental market because we simply don’t have enough inventory and everybody’s chasing those high end… People who can pay the highest rent. So things are being upgraded and rents are being increased and because people don’t have a choice both rents and housing prices go up at the same time. That’s my working theory. I don’t have exact math to prove that, but that’s what it feels like to me.

CHS: As a philosophy, I’m not going to say I buy it, but I definitely think it’s good to hear the ideas connected. So in another frame, can you maybe connect this for me then. How do you connect homelessness to housing? So many people talk about housing for homelessness when they’re ignoring many of the other factors like mental health and addiction. I mean it’s a housing problem because they’re not in homes, but not.

Moon: That is even more complicated than housing. But, for me, I’m with you. Like I believe we dis-invested in mental health facilities and social services at a state level and at a county level because of inadequate resources, because of austerity thinking. So we dis-invested, so have fewer and fewer resources. At the same time, our cities are growing so quickly. Then, we have all these folks coming out of institutional care, like kids coming out of foster care, people coming out of mental health facilities, people coming out of prison and we’re not offering them any help getting back on their feet or getting on their feet, period. And so they don’t have a way to enter the system. And then we have this incredibly overpriced housing market, so even if they had a minimum wage job, how are they going to get housing? Because there’s simply not enough housing at low income levels to support the need.

And so add to that student debt and people living one paycheck away from financial disaster and all the economic insecurity of that and you’ve just created this downward spiral of like, “How are we ever going to get out of it?” And in the homelessness issue what shocked me, I can’t remember the numbers exactly, but the one I counted at the end of 2015, the numbers were published, 3,500 folks in homelessness, sleeping outside. And they haven’t published the numbers from January, 2017 but it feels like more. But we also, in that same time period, we helped something like 10,000 or 20,000 people out of homelessness into housing and so we are doing a lot of good work and we are really helping folks get on their feet. But, we just keep adding, pushing more and more people into homelessness.

CHS: What do those 10,000, 20,000… What do they represent?

Moon: Folks the city and the county have helped out of homelessness into secure housing.

“So we need more low barrier shelters and, I think, tiny house villages and backyard cottages like Rex Hohlbein is advocating.”

Moon: And I think, also, we just simply don’t have enough of the immediate places for people to go when they first experience homelessness and if we could do more of the kind of navigational centers. Sort of low barrier shelters where it’s okay to come with your pets or there’s a place to store your belongings, or there’s a place for you and your partner to be together or you and your family. We need more places for people who have addictions. So we need more low barrier shelters and, I think, tiny house villages and backyard cottages like Rex Hohlbein is advocating. They’re also part of the solution cause if we could welcome people into our communities and say, “Hey this church, in their side yard, we can build a tiny house village.” And we do that 20-30 more times, that’s bringing a lot more people inside where it’s more secure at least.

CHS: What do you think about safe injection sites? And what do you think about the backlash that’s happened around them? They seem like a no-brainer.

Moon: Right? They seem like a no-brainer. I think people who have not struggled with the despair of being homeless or broke or surviving all the different traumas our world has to offer them, people who are so far removed from that they don’t understand.

For people who are not connected to their fellow humans in the way that we are, they don’t understand. “Why are they using drugs? Can’t they just get their shit together?” And so we need to help everybody understand how hard it is to get your shit together in the world that we have now. And safe injection sites are necessary because they prevent death and they prevent overdose and they prevent infections and they’re the best way to get people the services when they’re ready.

CHS: The homeless navigation center — it’s also about real estate. Where to put them. People are challenged by that. I don’t have an answer for it.

Moon: Yeah. We have to just activate our let’s take care of one another instincts. We need to work with community. I don’t think what they did with just springing it on the little Saigon was the right thing to do. We gotta work with community and help sort out how to do it, but we’ve all gotta help.

“I feel like politics in our city is often about checking in with important stakeholders and making sure you’re not pissing off anybody who is an important political player in this town and I’m ready to blast through that because I believe that that is what’s holding us back.”

CHS: I personally think it’s weird that these kinds of issues linger on in Seattle. Maybe they end up… I’ve never really been an adult in another city so maybe it’s… Is there any way to make these kinds of things not linger on? Can the executive do more?

Moon: Yup. There are situations like that that are really actually pretty hard because it’s about human rights and civil liberties versus safety of children and their part to sort out those things ’cause they’re both precious. But I feel like politics in our city is often about checking in with important stakeholders and making sure you’re not pissing off anybody who is an important political player in this town and I’m ready to blast through that because I believe that that is what’s holding us back.

CHS: Let’s talk about money. So, I saw something about you held up a sign at a candidates forum about about the progressive income tax and I guess you would not support it.

Moon: I wanted to hold up a, “yes but” sign but we didn’t have that. I think it’s really good effort to start having a progressive income tax for high earners in Seattle but there’s some real steep legal barriers and I think we need to be doing about five other things while we’re trying that because we can’t pin our hopes on just that. So we need a statewide capital gains tax, we need to close the useless tax loopholes, like oil companies don’t pay tax in our state because of refineries. I mean it’s just we have all these tax loopholes that are not doing anybody any good that are just hurting us and we have to have the courage to close them. We need to re-look at our at our estate tax and our inheritance tax because taxes on unearned wealth are incredibly important to get in place. If we’re just talking about taxing wages we’re never going to get to the progressive point we need. So, yes and we need to be doing all these other things too.

35:42 CHS: Alright, I just wonder if the true story of Seattle is Washington’s weird-ass tax setup is being a big, huge city in the middle of this hillbilly state. Bad planning. Who thought of that? What about transit? What can we do? I have noticed this real sense of relief, almost, because of light rail for many people in the neighborhood. So many people are happy to be here like,”Everything sucks about Capitol Hill but I can get on the Light Rail.”, and they…

Moon: Feel connected. So, when we’re growing as quickly as we are it’s only practical to invest in making, walking, biking and transit, the most convenient, fast and reliable modes, because that is the only way we’re going to accommodate all the movement we need with all the people moving here. And so, you could approach it from a sheerly rational… We don’t have enough space for cars, we have got to invest in making these other modes work. And you can just say we’ve shifted now, we are not a parochial small town where it’s easy to drive and park. We are a big city and that means we need a fully protected bike network, it means we need transit priority on enough downtown streets so that we keep the bus routes reliable, it means we need pedestrian investments everywhere in the city so it’s easier to walk safely where you need to go and we really have to shift the culture so that it’s not about level of service for cars but it’s about how we make sure walking, biking, transit are the best modes for every single neighborhood in Seattle. And, yes, it’s going to take money but it’s also a culture shift and looking at the revenue we have and figuring out how to use it more efficiently.

CHS: So, Mike McGinn got branded with mode change and it was a joke to establishment Seattle. It was a joke to 97.3 FM, Mayor McSchwinn and all that. To me it felt almost because the state can also come along and shove these other things down our throats and who cares about these little things we do and we’re still, and we don’t control it really in the end. I’m curious, how do you do more than that? I mean, he was the “bike mayor.”

Moon: I think our culture’s changed. When I was leading the People’s Waterfront Coalition and it was about replacing the Viaduct and not with another bypassed highway but really using that opportunity to invest in transit and streets and building connectivity in the city. And making access and mobility in and out of Seattle the priority, it was too soon, but I think our culture’s changed. I think now with Seattle Transit Blog, with the urbanist, with the your blog, with all the others, the wisdom has caught up.

CHS: Seattle Bike Blog.

Moon: Yes, Seattle Bike Blog, thank you.

CHS: I wanna make sure.Tom doesn’t sue me.

Moon: I think we’ve shifted our culture and with all the young people moving here, a lot them came from other cities or other countries they’re like, “Why don’t we have better transit?”, like, “Why can’t I bring my bike everywhere?” And it’s time for us to catch up. We’ve been hesitating and we’ve been held back and now it’s time to blast through to the next level.

CHS: Alright, well let’s hope those people vote. So, do you support municipal broadband?

Moon: Oh, hell yes. Folks like me can afford $100 a month for internet and most of Seattle can’t and it’s a big barrier.

CHS: I’m so dumb and so stuck in corporate America ways, I don’t even understand how municipal broadband honestly would work…

Moon: It’s just a utility. I mean, you treat it like a utility.

CHS: And how would it end up being different than something like Comcast?

Moon: Imagine the difference between Enron running our electricity systems and Seattle City Light, it’s a big difference. Seattle City Light does what they can to make sure everybody gets equal access to electricity and we have affordable rates and it’s not for profit, so, same idea.

CHS: Alright. Well, I’ll have to link to the Wikipedia article about Enron so the kids know what we’re talking about. Do you oppose a new youth jail?

Moon: Yes, I believe that we need to re-scope and rescale that project and make it really that alternatives to incarceration and really about youth justice and start over with a different design. That building is not the right building for what we need for the future.

CHS: Okay. Do you oppose a new North Precinct?

Moon: Again, that one I think we do need a new building, but it needs to get scaled back to what the community in the police department first proposed, that was I forget the, $80 million? It was something like modest and reasonable, like yeah, that’s probably worth doing, and then all of a sudden, it bloated to twice the price, and a huge parking garage, and a lot of community amenities. Somehow the city lost control of that process, and we need to go back to the simple modest building that we had before.

CHS: Is it as start-over as the youth jail or is it less start-over?

Moon: Less start-over, because I think there was a point in the process where there was a good proposal on the table, that then got just bloated by add ons.

CHS: Forgetting about Olympia, what do you think about the idea of doing more around rent control in the city? Or at least fighting for it.

Moon: I think we should…

CHS: What do you think of rent control as an idea?

Moon: I think we should fight for the ability to self-govern in that arena, and I’m nervous about what rent control can do because it’s so easy to manipulate wealthy people paying $200 a month for a luxury apartment in New York is maddening. But can we do something with rent stabilization, so we can limit the price increases, the rental increases to something that’s tied to wages?

CHS: Commercial rent control, what about that, for businesses? Like Dave Meinert, should I be helping Dave to keep Lost Lake open, because of its cultural importance to my neighborhood?

Moon: I’d say yes. I’d say rent stabilization for residential and commercial both, because we are driving out small business. And small business is part of our soul, it’s part of our creative culture, it’s part of the life blood of what we love about living here, and we have got to protect small business better.

I think there’s a lot more we could do around community benefit agreements for new buildings, and say proactively, like we do with design review or design commission. Here’s what we’re looking for, here’s what we believe a good building is. I don’t want to say the design review process is a model, but I’m saying the idea of a proactive, here’s what we’re looking for and here’s what we expect.

And start working with businesses more directly about what kind of culture we wanna create in Seattle, and invite them to be part of it. And if the carrots don’t work, let’s look at sticks and look at, how do we put in policies that say… That create kind of downtown, the kind of culture we need and neighborhood commercial strips especially.

CHS: Okay, speaking of Dave Meinert, he’s very stoked to be closing down part of 10th Avenue for a streatery and also they were excited about the summer program of closing down Pike/Pine on weekends for a summer nights in the streets. What do you think about those pedestrianization efforts that are very surgical but still open streets?

Moon: Love them. The closing down Pike Street on weekend evenings is great, and it seems to work and let’s keep doing it.

CHS: Can we do more of that?

Moon: Yes, let’s do more of that.

CHS: Alright, promise?

Moon: Promise.

“We’re all having this conversation about the future of our city and it’s completely different than the last mayor’s race.”

CHS: So maybe, this may be a longer answer… But how do we speed up light rail construction?

Moon: Man, we’ve got to put so much pressure on Sound Transit to look for all the cost savings they can, in the denied, and get as much money into development as soon as possible.

CHS: And so is there anything else? Any other tricks up your sleeve? I’m not sure I can wait. I’m never going to go to Ballard unless they build that. I’m not going there.

Moon: Tricks up my sleeve? I think putting pressure on the planning process that we’re in now to find as many cost savings and as much, so that we can get going faster. We have the system where we’re doing some bonding but we’re basically building it as we generate the revenue and I think the new head of Sound Transit is really sharp about that, but have we pushed that as far as as possible? Because being able to bond and build more faster upfront is really essential in our city the way it’s growing right now.

CHS: Tell me about your opponents in this race. You’ve got this group of great people kind of vying together to get through and there’s no way for all them so…

Moon: First of all, it is really fun to be in dialogue with all these folks because we are together really trying to change things. I mean… We’re all having this conversation about the future of our city and it’s completely different than the last mayor’s race. And so I’m proud to be part of that. I have done the work to develop the solutions, put them on the website, my whole platform. Here’s what we need to do about housing for affordability. Here’s what we need to do about racial equity. Here’s what we need to do about building an economy that keeps and circulates wealth back in the community instead of extracting it to Wall Street. I’ve laid out a really strong solution set. And I think it’s easy for everybody else to wave their arms about problems, problems, problems, but if you really want to talk about a vision for what we’re going to be on the future and how we’re going to get there, I’m the one who’s ready to lead that and I’m banking on that being the difference. Like people are ready for solutions. People are ready for courageous leadership, and that’s what I want to offer.

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2 thoughts on “The mayor of Capitol Hill 2017: Cary Moon Q&A

  1. “…so much global Capitol…”

    Yes, it’s “Capitol” Hill, but I bet Cary’s intent would be communicated better by using the homophone, “so much global Capital.”

  2. While Jessyn Farrell turns into the Eyman attack on ST3, where is Cary Moon?

    Also OK, where was Cary Moon when the ST3 debate was raging? Where was Cary Moon when the thunder and lightning and rain raging on transit from the Great Reccesson? Where is Cary Moon in fighting I-947?

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