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Most Seattleites had probably never heard of Pat Murakami, a Mount Baker neighborhood activist and a candidate for the Seattle City Council seat held for the last two years by Lorena Gonzalez, until the Seattle Times endorsed her in July. But for those who pay attention debates over development and crime in the South End, Murakami’s name is familiar. As head of the Mount Baker Community Club and president of the South Seattle Crime Prevention Council, Murakami opposed efforts to locate Casa Latina, the day-labor center that serves primarily Spanish-speaking immigrant workers, to a site on Rainier Avenue; unsuccessfully fought El Centro De La Raza’s plans to provide services and affordable housing at the Beacon Hill light rail station; and led efforts to prevent transit-oriented development out of the Rainier Valley. In its endorsement, the Times editorial board wrote that Murakami would “broaden the council’s representation and strengthen the voice of residents who own homes as well as those who rent.”
The Times endorsement helped push Murakami through the primary with 19.71 percent of the vote, although it scarcely reduced Gonzalez’s landslide; she came out of this year’s primary with 64.17 percent of the vote, compared to 65.02 percent in 2015, when she faced a neighborhood activist opponent with similar political views, Bill Bradburd.
I sat down with Murakami, who runs an IT and computer repair firm, in her office in Georgetown.
The C Is for Crank [ECB]: I know you’re opposed to a lot of the policies the city council has adopted over the years, but what’s your specific critique of council member Gonzalez?
Pat Murakami [PM] Public safety is a big priority to me, obviously, and I don’t think she’s done enough in that role. I believe that body cameras should have been on officers a long time ago. I think we need Shot Spotter (an acoustic gunshot locator system) down here in South Seattle.
Another thing on public safety: I don’t think she’s doing anything to address major disasters like an earthquake in Seattle. I was in Alaska in 1964 [for the so-called Good Friday earthquake]. I remember that earthquake like it was yesterday, and I take disaster preparedness extremely seriously. Here, in my other office, at home, I have food, I have water, I have cookstoves and propane for heat or cooking, and I’m ready to sit in for two weeks. But we have the highest density of poverty of anywhere in the city [in South Seattle] and we don’t have the resources that the folks who don’t have the money to buy the dehydrated food would need, and we’re going to have a hot mess on our hands in South Seattle in particular.
ECB: Do you take issue with the police accountability legislation council member Gonzalez’s committee passed? What steps would you take to improve police accountability in Seattle?
PM: First, I would give credit where credit was due—the Community Police Commission wrote that legislation. Lorena likes to take credit for it. Well, passing good legislation shouldn’t give you a gold star as a city council member. And it should have been done a long time ago. We have a serious problem. I was there testifying that [former police chief] John Diaz should not have been our chief of police. She wasn’t there. She was in Seattle at the time. She could have spoken out.
Another issue—we have we only have 60 percent of the police officers we should have. I want a fully staffed police department so they can be out in the community and engaging with people and doing preventative work—going into the schools, serving as a mentor, playing late-night basketball with the kids, talking to people on the street, like, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ Think of the dynamic of Jackson Street. Everyone knows gang members hang out on certain parts of Jackson Street. What if there was a foot patrol officer that just kind of walks up and down the street and is talking to those men? The whole dynamic could change and they could redirect them to other activities.
“I didn’t initially like the signs, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ because I was thinking that’s one more thing that’s divisive, because all lives matter. But I’ve changed my mind and I’ve decided that until black lives matter, no lives matter.”
I know Lorena is very opposed to bringing in former members of the military, and I disagree with that. There are military people and people that served in the military, and we just need to find the ones that served in the military but are not militaristic in their approach. They actually would be further along in the training [when they join the force] and we could get them into uniform a lot sooner. We are having some problems with recruiting. We need the officers. They’re our first responders, and if there’s an emergency, almost all of our police officers live outside Seattle. So if we have an earthquake and it’s supposed to be all hands on the deck, they might not be able to even get to us, depending on conditions of the roads. Then we’ll be in big trouble. So we actually need a larger contingent of officers on the street during each shift, in the event we have something where we’re cut off.
“There are military people and people that served in the military, and we just need to find the ones that served in the military but are not militaristic in their approach. They actually would be further along in the training [when they join the force] and we could get them into uniform a lot sooner.”
ECB: Is there anything in particular you would do to accelerate police reform?
PM: I’d like to see more citizen oversight. Let’s say an officer seemed aggressive or angry. I think minor things need to be reported and dealt with, that won’t necessarily go on their employment record, but that they should realize that they need to be more polite to whomever they’re dealing with—whether it’s somebody that just robbed somebody or they’re breaking up a fight or somebody calls them names, they still need to be polite to the person that they’re dealing with. I don’t care what kind of criminal it is. I think we need the citizen commission to do things like visit the precincts and have a conversation with the police.
I don’t think they have a single former officer on the Citizens [Police] Commission. I think we should have about two. There should not be enough of them that they can outvote the group. but have two that are former officers that have good records. so that they can explain to the folks what their perspective would have been as an officer and everyone that’s on the commission should go through the [Community] Police Academy. I think it gives you a sense of how stressful their jobs are.
I think we need we have serious problems in this country, but we also need police, and we need to have that conversation where somewhere in the middle is the right thing for our society. I think there is still too much division. I didn’t initially like the signs, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ because I was thinking that’s one more thing that’s divisive, because all lives matter. But I’ve changed my mind and I’ve decided that until black lives matter, no lives matter. So we really need some serious changes in society, and I’m willing to work on those things from a balanced perspective. I think Lorena just tends to be more anti-police, and I realize the sacrifices that good officers make.
I want junior officers, and apparently the union doesn’t want that. I want people in a white shirt that don’t carry a gun that could go to a burglary, where you know it’s safe, the burglar is long gone, and they could take the report photos and dust for prints, so then we’d have more officers [on the streets].
ECB: As an opponent of the mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability plan, which your opponent supported, which parts of HALA would you like to revisit?
PM: I think the whole thing should be revisited. It was written by developers for developers, and we need community input. I don’t know why the city is so averse to actually listening to community members. They’ll make up all kinds of excuses, like, ‘Oh. the people in the room aren’t diverse enough, blah blah blah.’ I’m throughout this community. I have friends in subsidized housing. I have friends in a huge variety of ethnic backgrounds and races, and everybody wants the same four things. All we have to do is make decisions that help ensure that people eventually become property owners, if possible, so that they can build wealth; that their kids get to go to a good school; that they have a job that pays decent wages; and that they can live in a safe community. If we make decisions on that basis and never try just to dump stuff in one area and have one part of the community in one neighborhood bear all the burden of social problems, we’d have a better city.
My dream is: I went down to South Center, to the Olive Garden, and I looked around and was like, ‘This is like the who’s who of the United Nations. There are people from all over the world there, of all different races, and it’s not the cheapest restaurant. This is, to me, diversity. Everybody’s financially comfortable. In Seattle, the diversity is, people of color tend to be impoverished. You go over to Bellevue and you’ll see middle-class racial diversity. That is my vision.
I’d like to think about the entire community when development is done and not just the best interest of the developers. I want neighbors to have a say in where the density goes, and I want the density to fit into the neighborhood. Let’s take Eastlake, for example. You’ve got houses going up a hillside that all have views, and they’re talking about raising the height limits on everything. Why not just put all the density up against the freeway, not affect the views, and just go much higher than you were planning to along the freeway? Then they get a view and everybody down the hill maintains theirs.
“My dream is: I went down to South Center, to the Olive Garden, and I looked around and was like, ‘This is like the who’s who of the United Nations. There are people from all over the world there, of all different races, and it’s not the cheapest restaurant. This is, to me, diversity. Everybody’s financially comfortable.”
If we have people driving around and around looking for a parking spot, that’s not helping the environment. We have to have enough parking to accommodate those people. If we want our streets to be parking lots like they are in New York City, then just go ahead and develop anywhere without off-street parking. We can have the economy go to a grinding halt and force everybody out of their vehicles, but we have to face reality. We’re getting the cart before the horse too often.
ECB: What do you mean by a workable transit system?
PM: I’d like to see more connector buses. They actually cut bus lines after light rail went in, and made it more difficult for people, and I know people in my neighborhood [Mount Baker, which has a light rail station] that drove all the way to Tukwila to park for free to ride light rail into downtown. Now, how does that make environmental sense at all? They should have built parking lots near the light rail stations. There’s no parking along ML King [Jr. Way], and I know what the crimes are. Most people are mugged within 300 feet of light rail or a major bus stop, and that’s been true for years and years. I personally would not ride light rail without five other people after dark ever, okay?
ECB: Why not?
PM: People have bene mugged right after they get off, especially a woman by herself at night. I stopped wearing my necklace that my husband gave me because necklaces are literally just snatched right off your neck. You don’t take out your electronics when you’re on the light rail. The police know. They tell us there’s somebody that sits on there, they case it, they get on the phone and say, ‘Hey, I’m following this person’ and the car comes up behind. Once they’re at the stop, the guy will try to take something from the person that’s walking, and if they don’t give it freely, then the other people will get out of the car and forcefully take it, and then they hop into the car and zoom off.
I think we need to think outside the box. Maybe we need to take advantage of our topography and have aerial trams going from hilltop to hilltop. They would be a lot less expensive to put in, less intrusive, and you maybe lease space from an existing building owner and have the stop on top of their building.
ECB: What do you think of Mike O’Brien’s proposal to create more places for people living in their cars to park without getting towed away for unpaid tickets?
PM: I don’t think it’s a good idea. Not all, but some—enough—people in RVs are actually dangerous and have assaulted parking enforcement, so they’re not necessarily people that should be indefinitely in neighborhoods. That’s one issue. The biggest issue is, I don’t support anything that is going to encourage the creation of a permanent underclass. Accepting that people live in RVs and tents is wrong.
We are now getting a rat infestation problem where a lot of RVs are located. I was at a meeting in South Park and seniors were complaining that they live in a facility called Arrowhead [Gardens, run by the Seattle Housing Authority], and they couldn’t open up their windows because the stench of human feces that’s out on the street is enough to knock them over. It’s not just a public safety issue, it’s a public health issue.
“Just like with sex offenders, it’s better that everybody knows where [people with criminal records] are, versus, they could be anywhere and you don’t know who you’re getting as a potential tenant. If they’re in one place and they’re kind of being monitored, you can see if they’re going back to their old habits.”
ECB: But would you agree that the larger problem is that we don’t have adequate affordable housing, and won’t for a long time?
PM: I’ve heard that churches have been willing to host them, and we need to let them do that. [Ed: A pilot program called Road to Housing, in which churches offered spaces in their lots to people living in vehicles, only provided spaces for 12 cars.] I can’t believe the expense of what it was for the sanctioned RV sites [which the city has since abandoned]. They said it was about $1,700 a month per RV. At that amount give them a friggin’ housing voucher! And maybe they’ll be renting in Renton or Kent or Auburn but at least they’d be in decent housing. We also have surplus city property that we could be looking at. Let’s build single-occupancy boarding houses, like we used to have, and when the crisis is over with, those could be converted to youth hostels for tourists.
ECB: What do you think of the fair-chance housing legislation that just passed, which prohibits landlords from asking about a prospective tenant’s criminal history?
PM: I have mixed feelings about it. I really think that our low-income housing providers, like SHA, should take all of these folks as tenants initially, let them establish themselves back into the community, show a good year or two of credit history, that they’ve paid their rent on time, etc., and then have them go out into the general public.
ECB: It seems like that would create a weird situation for SHA residents—if you think these folks are too dangerous to be allowed to rent on the private market, why do you think low-income people should be forced to live next to them?
PM: They could have one building that’s for transitional housing and have it separated somewhat. Just like with sex offenders, it’s better that everybody knows where [people with criminal records] are, versus, they could be anywhere and you don’t know who you’re getting as a potential tenant. If they’re in one place and they’re kind of being monitored, you can see if they’re going back to their old habits. I think in some ways, there should be an exchange program so that people are sent to a new community where they’re connected with services and they get a fresh start. When they’re forced to go back to the county where they committed the offense, sometimes the easiest thing to do is go back and hang with the same people you did before, that got you into trouble in the first place.
ECB: What do you think of expanding programs like LEAD [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion] and the therapeutic courts?
PM: I think that’s a good idea. I’d like to see more community courts and restorative justice. I think the city should fund social workers in every single school. And kids whose parents are engaged tend to be more successful in school, so we need to develop programs that help parents be successful. In the South End, for example, I think we need more acculturation classes. We’ve brought in lots of people from East Africa. Many of them are single women who lost their spouse to conflict in their home country, and they’ve not been given enough information about how things work in America. We need to empower them to stand up—like if their oldest kid is a male, they sometimes give away way too much power to the child. They still need to be a parent. We need to teach them, ‘Okay, in this country, you can’t hit your kids but you still can control them, and this is how you do it.’ There’s just so much more we could do to ensure success. Their chances of success are diminished when we’re not properly supporting them. We are really letting people fall through the cracks.