This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.
Today: District 5 incumbent Debora Juarez. Juarez, a former public defender and pro tem Seattle Municipal Court judge, has served on the council since 2015, and has developed a reputation as a blunt-spoken, fierce advocate for her district. We sat down the same week that a conversation about criminal-justice funding devolved into a debate about why women become sex workers, and we started our conversation talking about that.
The C Is for Crank (ECB): A recent conversation about whether to expand the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program went off the rails when the deputy police chief, Mark Garth Green, said some women who engage in sex work aren’t good candidates for LEAD because “aren’t necessarily substance abusers” and do sex work for fun. Unlike your colleagues Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena Gonzalez, you didn’t make any comments during that discussion, so I wanted to ask you what your reaction was.
Debora Juarez (DJ): My reaction was the same as council member Mosqueda and council member [Sally] Bagshaw. We still have this misunderstanding about what sex workers and trafficking, and that it isn’t a victimless crime. They are victims. I’m not outraged. I’m more afraid that if that is what frontline officers think, that affects their ability and their discretion in how they do their jobs. So it could’ve been any officer sitting there saying that. And I’ve heard that [sort of talk] when I was a public defender and a judge.
ECB: It seemed like the larger context that got lost in that discussion was the discussion about whether offering sex workers access to LEAD would be a more effective approach than SPD’s new policy of arresting women on Aurora Ave. And what SPD and the mayor’s office seemed to be saying that there are some people for whom LEAD just doesn’t work. What do you think of that?
“LEAD is just an example of a lot of do-no-harm philosophies that this city has embraced, [though] not in the beginning. I remember when I was a public defender and we started doing needle exchanges and everyone was mad. We had the same arguments then. ‘You’re enabling;’ ‘Drug addicts are going to come from everyone.’ Well, that didn’t happen and now it’s [considered] a public health issue.”
DJ: There is some truth that LEAD doesn’t work for everybody, but I would say overall, it does work if you have a bed ready. If you have somewhere safe for them to go, it does work. And I hate to get into this whole patriarchy thing, but you really need some women in leadership that understand it from a DNA level that sometimes [sex work] is [women’s] last way to take care of themselves. And I would say the majority of women are amenable to LEAD.
ECB: So you think that LEAD needs to be expanded?
DJ: There’s no doubt. I think everyone agrees that it works, that it should be expanded, and that LEAD is just an example of a lot of do-no-harm philosophies that this city has embraced, [though] not in the beginning. I remember when I was a public defender and we started doing needle exchanges and everyone was mad. Now it’s normal stuff, right? We had the same arguments then. “You’re enabling.” “Drug addicts are going to come from everyone.” Well, that didn’t happen and now it’s [considered] a public health issue.
ECB: So do you think LEAD should be funded at the level they’re requesting, which would require an additional $4.8 million?
DJ: I think we just have to land on a number and I err on the side of more than less.
ECB: You’ve supported expanding the Navigation Team, even though a lot of what they do now is just removing encampments and telling people to move along. Do you think that the problem has gotten so bad that just clearing encampments is a worthwhile thing to be spending money on?
DJ: Yes, I do, because I think you have to do something. And I know people don’t want to hear this, but what I’ve seen, particularly in our district, [is that] you have 27 tents and not one person wants to accept services or housing. Or we have these tents and we know that they’re doing sex trafficking and selling drugs. My philosophy has been this: If somebody in Pinehurst is selling drugs out of their house, they should be arrested. If they’re selling drugs out of their tent, they should be arrested. That’s really what I think. We have to do something. Looking away from that issue isn’t good enough.
ECB: When you say, ‘We’ve offered them all the services,’ I think that the counterargument would be that there aren’t enough treatment beds or even enhanced shelter beds available.
DJ: I’m physically out there [talking to people who refuse services]. I know what I saw. On the flip side, I have also seen where we have offered services and we’ve had success, mainly when we’ve people into enhanced shelters. That is more palatable [to people living in encampments], and that’s what we need more of. That’s been my big push.
ECB: Do you think the region needs more revenue to address homelessness, in addition to the new regional homelessness authority?
DJ: Yes, in a general sense. Absolutely. And in fact, my original thought six months ago was, I wanted them to also have a part in building housing, not just [providing] services. I wanted them to be able to assume debt and issue debt and actually build housing stock, along with the social service piece and the enhanced services piece. Maybe we can get to that point, because I think there’s a lot of for-profit and nonprofit developers that would feel more comfortable writing a check to a [Public Development Authority] than to the city of Seattle or the King County. That’s what I’m hearing from the private sector.
ECB: Would you be open to revisiting any of the recommendations that came out of the city’s Progressive Revenue Task Force, besides the head tax?
DJ: I wouldn’t;. I’m going to be candid with you on that. That was seven months of not our finest hour. You know, I wrote this memo deconstructing the progressive revenue task force’s report. My position had always been from the beginning that that should be a voter initiative and I wanted it on the ballot. I worked with Mayor Ed Murray when we were looking at imposing a tax, and then you saw what happened—he and the county executive [Dow Constantine] said the people are tax-weary [and dropped it]. It was ready to go, raising $52 million a year for five years.
I would have liked that kind of structure to have that kind of discussion with the head tax.
ECB: Do you support the mayor’s “fare share” plan to tax Uber and Lyft rides to pay for transit, housing, and a worker dispute resolution center?
DJ: I’m supportive of that. I knew that the mayor was going to do it. Remember, I was on Bruce’s committee when [the labor issues with ride-sharing companies] got really ugly. And I remember reading all those cases in LA about Uber. And then they wrote, like, a hundred-million-dollar check and settled the lawsuits, and all those core issues about labor never got answered because Uber was smart. So the court never heard it—it was moot. So long story short, if we can tax them 51 cents for five years to raise $52 million and it goes to housing around transit, I think that’s phenomenal. I’m not so big on the streetcar part, but the transit and the housing, I’m excited about that.
ECB: Do you think taxing Uber and Lyft will delay or supplant congestion pricing downtown?
DJ: No, I think we should do congestion pricing too. I’m really for it. The only caveat I have, and it’s a big one, is going to be equity. Making sure that people who drive for a living, low income people, whoever needs to drive, that we have some kind of waiver in place for them. And that some of the money that you get from that goes back into transportation, for electrifying cars. Electricity is going to be the innovator for this whole green economy.
ECB: Let’s talk about the 35th Ave. NE bike lane. It seems like cyclists’ fears about safety are being borne out, in that people are using the middle lane to pass cyclists and other drivers and are continuing to turn into the path of pedestrians and people on bikes. Is there a point where you would say, “Okay, this isn’t working, we need to actually build a protected bike lane on 35th”?
“Why don’t we look at each neighborhood individually and look at just the physical aspects of that neighborhood and whether or not it’s supportive of a bike lane? I think 35th is going to be a textbook example about how things can go wrong quickly when you don’t include certain people that could organize quickly real quickly. I mean, they just lit [the council] up.”
DJ: There’s always room to say, look, we tried it this way [and it didn’t work]. But let’s start with the pros. First, I’m not against bike lanes. When the bike lane master plan first showed up in 2007, it was about ridership and safety. One thing that wasn’t in there, was business districts. And so I was just saying, it’s time to ask businesses what they think as well. I think that’s a legitimate issue.
And the other issue is did we, didn’t we create a bike lane on 39th? That is an alternative.
ECB: Cyclists would say that’s a long way away from destinations. If you’re a cyclist, you’re trying to get to the same destinations as a car driver. If you have to ride an extra four blocks in each direction, a lot of people won’t use it. I mean, you can see that people are still using 35th because it’s more convenient.
DJ: Of course I want people to ride bikes and of course we want people to be safe, but we have to recognize, as you know, this is Seattle and there’s hills and there’s dark weather and there’s cars. You could never put a bike lane on Lake city Way. People would lose their minds. People fought against the RapidRide on Aurora. I mean, they were mad. Businesses were mad. Metro did it anyway, god bless them. I just don’t want to see the same kind of argument. Why don’t we look at each neighborhood individually and look at just the physical aspects of that neighborhood and whether or not it’s supportive of a bike lane? I think 35th is going to be a textbook example about how things can go wrong quickly when you don’t include certain people that could organize quickly real quickly. I mean they just lit [the council] up.
ECB: You were one of three council members who voted to uphold Mayor Durkan’s veto of legislation that requires the city to use excess soda tax revenues on new or expanded healthy-food programs. Why did you oppose this legislation?
DJ: [Using earmarked tax revenues to supplant general fund revenue] is what the mayor has done for a couple of years, and we do that with a lot of taxes. It all comes out even in the wash. It’s all the same pot of money.
To me, the sweetened beverage tax specifically should be used to feed people, feed children, making sure that food banks have a revenue stream that they can count on. They’re doing other things besides handing out food. And so when you give them that revenue stream, that frees them up to do the other things they’re doing, like eviction prevention, signing people up for health care. And so when I found out that some of that money was being used for something that I didn’t think was strategic, I had a problem with that.
ECB: It seems like voting to allow the mayor to use the revenues to supplant general-fund dollars that pay for existing programs opens the door to more of that.
DJ: It could, but that’s what we’re there to watch. We all voted yes [to use excess soda tax revenues to pay for existing programs] last fall. So this wasn’t new. And then all of a sudden the dynamics and politics changed. And that’s what I was annoyed with.
ECB: The last thing I want to ask you about is the Jackson Park Golf Course.
DJ (laughing): Oh, lord, why do you guys keep bringing that up?
ECB: My question is, if golf continues to decline in popularity, would you support converting it into a different park use?
DJ: I don’t think I would premise it on whether or not if golf keeps declining. I’m not going to say, “Hey, let’s just shut down golf because it’s an elite sport and no one of color uses it” and just throw a hundred units of low income housing out there. I want to start with the facts. I want to know how many golf courses [there are], what year they were built, what has the highest usage, how much are we underwriting, and what is the social equity lens here? I just want to know what it looks like and as you know, if it’s a public asset, there’s nothing wrong with underwriting it. It’s not like underwriting someone’s commercial business. Some things we subsidize are underperforming. We subsidize yoga classes, salsa classes, archery, you name it. We do it all the time. As long as they show me what the public benefit is and that they’re doing it through a race and social equity lens, I’m fine with that.
(Kshama Sawant did not respond to multiple requests.)
(Alex Pedersen did not respond to multiple requests.)