Now that the primary-election field of 47 has been narrowed to a comparatively manageable 18, I’m sitting down with all the council candidates to talk about what they’ve learned so far, their campaign plans going forward, and their views on the issues that will shape the election, including density, “neighborhood character,” crime, parking, police accountability, and diversity. I’ll be rolling out all 17 of my interviews (Kshama Sawant was the only candidate who declined to sit down with me) over the next few weeks.
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Today’s interview is with Sandy Brown, a gun safety advocate and former Church Council leader who’s running in North Seattle’s District 5.
The C Is for Crank [ECB]: You finished far behind your opponent, Debora Juarez, which must have come as a surprise given that many initially considered you the frontrunner in this eight-way race. What was your reaction to the lopsided [39.25-19.88] results, and do you think you have a path to victory?
Sandy Brown: I was surprised, a little, but when I think it through, it it’s not a surprise at all. The District 5 race has had more independent expenditures than any other race. [Most of that was a big spend by the Realtors on behalf of fourth-place finisher Kris Lethin; full IE details available at the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission]. The final three weeks were a shower of direct mail and robopolls directed at folks in the district—three from Deborah, one from the independent expenditure campaigns. [Third-place finisher] Halei [Watkins] did four flyers, including one from Planned Parenthood. Kris had three flyers from the Realtors, plus in-person calls. Mercedes [Elizalde, who finished fifth] was doing doorbelling. And we lost the Times and the Stranger endorsements [to Juarez].
In contrast, we had three measly direct mail pieces and no calls, robo or otherwise. What saved us was, we had 26,000 attempts [to reach voters at the door] and 18,000 actual doors. That’s really big. We got those votes by knocking on doors. So those are relationships which will help us in the general. In this new plan, we have to focus less on the resume and more on the issues.
ECB: What issues do you think most differentiate you from your opponent?
SB: I think the election for District 5 has not been about issues. We have yet to see Debora take a stand that defines her positions in this race. We have watched Debora work to make it a really broad race. She’s opposed to taking stands on issues. The one stand she has taken is in favor of federal funding for the Northgate bike-pedestrian bridge. The problem is that we’ve already got that funded. The money’s in the bank.
We do have Debora on the record saying she opposes labor organizing in the casinos and hotels. We have her on the record opposing the activities around Shell Oil. She said to the Times endorsement board—because as you have noted, the Times is only interested in Terminal 5—that she opposed the [protests] down there.
Debora is an unknown quantity and didn’t have a grasp on the issues. Only 24 percent of her money is from inside Seattle. Her largest contributors are Native American tribes. Seventy-five percent of my money is from inside Seattle. I’ve been working here for many years and my record is here. I have a longstanding record on progressive issues–homelessness, gun violence, marriage equality.
The question is to look at is, does Debora have a track record in the city of Seattle?
ECB: You’ve been somewhat critical of the mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda committee’s recommendations to build affordable housing in Seattle, saying you thought the committee should have gone further. Can you elaborate your thoughts on HALA?
SB: The issues are more complicated than just [removing] single-family [areas from consideration for other uses, such as duplexes.] The issue of a ten-minute walkshed–what does that mean? [HALA recommended upzoning the six percent of single-family land that’s within a 10-minute walk to frequent transit service to allow low-rise apartments]. I know people who’ve been timing themselves to see if they’re 10 minutes from Lake City way to find out if they’re going to get upzoned. People need to know those kind of things. The sooner we can get to specifics, the better.
One of the things with backyard cottages and mother-in law apartments is that they’re great things to have in single-family areas, but they’re already legal. The question is, what’s the best way to incentivize more of it to get to the same goal [as allowing duplexes and triplexes] without the [single-family] changes? I like them to be owner-occupied, because the financial incentive goes to the homeowner, not a developer. [HALA recommends eliminating the requirement that all primary units that have an accessory dwelling be owner-occupied].
The heart of HALA was the compromise on the linkage fee to get the business community on board. [The HALA committee dropped a residential linkage fee imposed on new housing developments and proposed a commercial linkage fee]. The next step is the feasibility question. Developers said, if you set the linkage fee too high, it would lead to a lawsuit.
ECB: Do you oppose the HALA proposal to upzone 6 percent of single-family to low-density multifamily?
SB: I haven’t involved myself in the politics of that. I think it needs to be neighborhood by neighborhood. In Broadview or on 12th Ave Northwest, if there is additional housing, the challenge is that those people are going to need a car, because the nearest bus stop is 14 blocks away on Greenwood.
If there’s going to be additional density, it should be done neighborhood by neighborhood, based on what infrastructure is there. Shouldn’t there be parks? Shouldn’t there be amenities?
What we do–introducing density where there aren’t schools and parks–it’s a quality of life issue. Let’s go neighborhood by neighborhood. It’s always generalities, and it shouldn’t be. I believe there are some northwest and northeast neighborhoods that are not good candidates. I think we could see a little more density around Maple Leaf, Roosevelt and 15th, and Lake City Way at 125th. That’s a prime candidate for more density. The community has a plan, and it’s a really good plan, it just needs more [transit-oriented development]. There’s a whole plan to make Lake City not just more dense but also a better community.
Let’s bring density here, but we should be coordinating density with what the infrastructure is in the neighborhoods. Why would we want to be putting density where we don’t have schools or parks or bus service? How do we get more density if we don’t have the infrastructure? It’s going to increase the number of cars on the road.
The second concern I have that I don’t hear very much about is that there are really no new answers in the HALA plan for housing for people making from zero to 30 percent of median income. I didn’t see any big new investments. If HALA don’t [provide housing for] zero to 30 then we haven’t move the dime on homelessness. My plan is for a $5 million increase in the general fund for shelter. We need a reorientation of our priorities.
It’s very complicated to build and finance very low-income housing. On Aurora, we have a ton of old motels. If we used housing levy money, we could activate those places that are dormant and turn them into more positive things. We need 2,000 more shelter beds. I haven’t checked the number of rooms in those motels, but I bet there are hundreds.
ECB: What do you think of the committee’s recommendation to eliminate or parking minimums for some new construction?
SB: People worry about parking minimums. I hear it a lot up in Broadview. I hear people complain up on Palatine and First Avenue–there are all those new apartments and people are parking on First and Palatine. They’re saying the same thing about Greenwood.
In my opinion, the key objective is to get people out of their cars. We’re not going to be able to build more streets, and it’s ecologically catastrophic to continue the way we are. So we’ve got to have more transit so people can live here without having to be so car-centric. But there are people who ask, how can I do that if we don’t have a way to get around without our cars?
ECB: I hear a lot about violent crime in the south end and property crime in the north. How big an issue is crime in your district, and what kinds of crimes are you most concerned about?
SB: The last quarterly report showed a spike in violent crimes in the North Precinct, but what the north precinct is known for is property crime. It’s the capital of Seattle car prowls and lost packages.
I used to live two blocks away from an encampment of people that included individuals openly using and selling drugs and people openly carrying baseball bats to protect their turf. The neighbors called SPD continually for three weeks, and the answer was always, we’re understaffed, it’s not a high priority, or we have to see the behavior occur in front of our eyes to do anything about it. That doesn’t answer neighbors’ concerns.
I have extensive background experience in homelessness. I worked to advocate for tent cities. I’ve taken out-there stands on behalf of homeless people. And I was shocked at what I saw, because there was a level of disorder that I had not seen in any neighborhood.
People within a block or two of Aurora experience the area as a high-crime neighborhood. I’m not sure that all they perceive is real, but that’s how they perceive it. So they’re asking, how can we get SPD to work for us, to do something that will help their neighborhood? They want to feel like they have a safe neighborhood.