Tag: mayoral election

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Cary Moon

Civic activist, engineer, and first-time candidate Cary Moon isn’t much of a political brawler; during the 2007 campaign against the waterfront deep-bore tunnel, when most Seattle voters first got to know her, Moon’s style was more “convince them on the merits” than “bury the opposition.” But this year, aided by her pugnacious consultants at Moxie Media, Moon has come out swinging, accusing her opponent, Jenny Durkan, of knowingly accepting “illegal contributions” claiming that Durkan wants to protect “profiteers and Wall Street interests,” and issuing a celebratory press release when the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce declined to endorse her. At the same time, Moon (who is white) has aggressively courted supporters of Nikkita Oliver, a black activist, poet, and attorney who finished third in the primary, by pledging to  “share power” with Oliver’s supporters. In carving out an ideological niche on the left, Moon has earned enthusiastic support from the Stranger, which mocks Durkan as a status-quo Hillary clone who will say anything to get elected, but has yet to win an endorsement from Oliver or the candidate who ended up in fourth place, former state legislator Jessyn Farrell.

When we sat down at Moon’s temporary office at Moxie Media HQ in September, I started out by asking Moon about her early support for a tax on foreign homebuyers, which Durkan (who has some pugnacious consultants of her own) has portrayed as a racist attack on Chinese investors.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: Your opponent argues that your proposal to tax non-resident property buyers is an attack on Chinese people, because a large percentage of foreign investors in the Northwest are from China. How do you respond?

Cary Moon [CM]: It feels fairly desperate and way off target.

ECB: How so?

CM: Our housing market used to be local—local buyers, local builders, local bankers. That’s how housing markets worked for decades and decades. When we have a housing market that’s hot because of our growth, and because tech workers are moving here, and we’re building more housing, and prices are going up because of natural demand, We’re attracting outside capital and we need to understand that dynamic.  How much of it is private equity firms, real estate investment trusts, or LLCs? How much of it is wealthy Seattleites buying second, third, and fourth homes for rental properties? How much of it is global money that is looking for a safe place to park capital that they need to invest somewhere and they’re like, ‘Oh, look, Seattle’s a nice city with escalating property values, so let’s put our money there’? We need to understand exactly the dynamic of, what is the activity and what would be an effective way to create a disincentive to block it.

 

“Could we do a special real estate excise tax or a capital gains tax on the sale of that property that was a non-primary residence? We need to look at the whole dynamic of what the problem is and we need to look at what is legal, but I think  a foreign buyers tax was never the right approach or the right question to ask.”

 

ECB: I know there’s no definitive data on this, but the indication seems to be that foreign investment is not a huge reason for rising housing prices in Seattle right now.

CM: We need to look at the data. Something’s going on. It could be that because of our condo code and the problems around liability [Washington State law exposes developers and builders to significant legal liability for actual and potential construction defects], we aren’t building very many condos, which are the starter homes that people can usually first buy. [There are conflicting accounts about whether liability really represents a significant barrier to construction.] We have an Airbnb  issue and we don’t really know how big it is. Maybe homes are coming off the market for use by commercial Airbnb operators. It’s just shrinking the available supply of homes for people who do want to live here. And even a fairly small number in each of those categories can have a big, dramatic effect, because it affects price levels at every single tier. So if you take luxury homes off the market and you take starter homes off the market, everything shifts up and it just becomes more and more desperate. The more money there is chasing fewer homes, the more that encourages [price] escalation.

ECB :The city attorney has argued that taxing foreign buyers or vacant homes is illegal. Do you disagree?

CM: I don’t think that’s the right approach. It’s not the foreignness of the buyers that’s the problem–it’s the activity. So maybe if it’s a corporate or nonresident owner and a vacant property. Could we do a special real estate excise tax or a capital gains tax on the sale of that property that was a non-primary residence? We need to look at the whole dynamic of what the problem is and we need to look at what is legal, but I think  a foreign buyers tax was never the right approach or the right question to ask.

ECB: Vancouver has a tax on home sales to nonresident buyers, and it doesn’t seem to have stabilized prices.

CM: It did for a while. For the first six eight months, it stabilized prices and sales dropped dramatically. But what happened there is there is so much capital trying to get out of China right now that even at a 15 percent fee [on sales], it’s still better than leaving the money in China. They’re so motivated to get it out that they’re willing to pay the 15 percent fee.

ECB: What are some other measures you’d support to increase housing supply and reduce housing costs?

CM: We have to keep funding flowing to nonprofit housing production. Get the housing trust fund back up to $200 million, like it used to be before the recession. Look at using surplus city land for very low-income affordable housing production. Look at how do we get more community land trusts going, because that is an excellent step toward homeownership for so many folks. There’s a lot of infill, like multifamily lowrise, that we could be doing in neighborhoods. We need to restart that conversation again, on a more constructive note, about how can we grow in each neighborhood in a way that welcomes people from all income levels and all ages and stages of life into the neighborhoods, so it’s not exclusive by economic class.

ECB: Tell me what do you mean by ‘on a more constructive note.’ Because a lot of the stuff you’re talking about seem very much like things that were on Ed Murray’s agenda.

CM: So HALA had identified 65 different strategies, and we got hung up on the [Mandatory Housing Affordability] upzones because of the way it got leaked. [Ed: Seattle Times reporter Danny Westneat published a column in 2015 that claimed Murray was planning to “get rid of single-family zoning,” prompting a homeowner backlash that ultimately led Murray to walk back a proposal to allow modest density increases, such as duplexes, in single-family areas.]  I think we still need to have those conversations, and I’d like to hit the reset button and start those conversations over again.

“We can’t do what San Francisco did and falsely limit supply, because that escalates prices. But I also want to recognize that only expecting the free market to solve this is not going to work.”

 

ECB: Would you eliminate exclusive single-family zoning, as Murray initially proposed?

CM: I would really look at all the zones and say, would it makes sense for a Single Family 5000 zone, for instance [where housing is restricted to detached single-family houses on 5,000-square-foot lots] to allow backyard cottages or clustered housing, and look at, how do we add row houses, duplexes, or low-rise multifamily in some places? How do we add a little bit more density at each level? So, yes, I would like to take another look at all the zoning and find a way to add infill development in all zones.

ECB: I’m trying to get a better sense of how you differ from your opponent on affordable housing and the need for more housing supply, because I hear her saying very similar things.

CM: I have a very firm belief that the free market is not going to be the only answer. Yes, we need to keep up with demand for people who want to move here. No question. We can’t do what San Francisco did and falsely limit supply, because that escalates prices. But I also want to recognize that only expecting the free market to solve this is not going to work. We have to have a strong component of public and market and affordable housing to balance the volatility that will happen in the housing market. We need rent stabilization.

ECB: What do you mean by rent stabilization? Do you have a proposal to restrict rent increases?

CM: Not yet. I have to look at best practices and what’s working in other cities. You hear the stories that most of us live, of having to move year after year, having to be more and more downwardly mobile, because apartments are increasingly unaffordable and you have to just keep moving to find a place you can afford. It’s causing tremendous housing insecurity. For folks who can afford to keep an apartment, it’s stressful, and for folks who can’t, it’s toxic. So we’ve got to do something, and rent stabilization looks like it’s part of the answer, as well as increasing tenants’ rights and making sure that everybody facing eviction or a huge rent increase has access to a lawyer. It makes a really big difference, because the folks who are getting taken advantage of can get help.

ECB: You’ve said that you think “rapid rehousing” with temporary vouchers, which the city is emphasizing as a key solution to homelessness, is inadequate. Can you elaborate on that comment, and what are some other solutions you would support?

CM: I think the starting point for that set of solutions was that the housing affordability crisis and the homelessness crisis are unrelated, and we all know that’s not true. That’s just stupid. That’s not reality. We have to come up with solutions that acknowledge that two of the main drivers of the homelessness crisis are the defunding of behavioral health services and addiction services, and the housing affordability crisis.

So the solutions I would put forward are: how can we get more funding into those services? How can we build more low-barrier shelters? How can we get more funding for long-term supportive housing, because a lot of the folks in shelters now really do need long-term help? How can we look at some of the emergency solutions, like the RV parks that Mike O’Brien’s feeling out how to implement? How can we build more tiny house villages, because for folks who are currently on the streets, having a roof over your head and a door to lock is pretty much essential?

“I think the starting point for [Pathways Home] was that the housing affordability crisis and the homelessness crisis are unrelated, and we all know that’s not true. That’s just stupid. That’s not reality.”

 

ECB: Some of the changes the city is implementing, like requiring that all providers go through a competitive bidding process that emphasizes permanent housing, could move city funding away from providers that focus on more temporary solutions, like low-barrier shelter and tiny houses. Do you think the city is moving in the right direction with this new bidding process?

CM: I want to be careful here, because I have never worked at a homeless service provider and I am not sure really how to talk about it, except that there always is room for more efficiency in any organization. So if we can figure out a way to get more program delivered for less money, we should definitely be doing that. I think we’re in the middle of the process, so we should continue with the process and see where it gets us.

ECB: One aspect of the new bidding process that has been controversial is that it’s performance-based—meaning, providers get ranked largely on whether they get people out of shelter and into ‘permanent’ housing. There’s a concern that this will result in service providers focusing on the people who are the easiest to serve, rather than the hardest to house.

CM: That’s a good point. Some of the supportive housing for folks in need—for survivors of domestic abuse, for kids coming out of foster care, for people coming back from the criminal justice system—they need more supportive help. If we can afford it, permanent supportive housing is the right approach, but there are certain populations that do need transitional housing, and I don’t want to move way from it completely for those populations.

ECB: Nikkita Oliver has declined to endorse you. How did you feel when you heard about her decision?

CM: The People’s Party [the organization that ran Oliver as its first candidate] is a really important movement in our city, and I want to honor everything that they’ve done and will do, because building black and brown power and building black and brown voices is an essential part of turning the corner and becoming a more just and inclusive city. I feel patient. I don’t question that it’s going to take some time to figure out if and what to do in the mayor’s race. So I honor the process that they’re going through, and I have faith that we’ll reestablish dialogue.

ECB: So you haven’t actually spoken to Nikkita since the election?

CM: No, just texting and voice mail.

ECB: How do you respond to the criticism that, as a wealthy white woman,  you can’t adequately represent low-income black and brown people?

CM: I mean, the reality is that too much power is held by wealthy white people who have access to privilege like I have my whole life. So they’re not wrong. My commitment to building a more just world is true, and I know that means tackling systemic racism. It means changing who has power. It means including the voices of the folks most marginalized and most impacted by inequality and centering their needs and their power as we make the transition.  I’m ready to help do that work from this position, but I own my privilege. I know I’m in a position where I had a lot of doors open for me, and I have a lot of advantages. It’s okay for them to call me out on that.

ECB: Beyond calling you out on your privilege, Oliver and her supporters raised a lot of issues during the campaign that just might not be top of mind for you, like displacement, gentrification police violence, and restorative justice. You’ve talked a lot about wanting to focus on those issues and ‘share power’ with people who have been marginalized. What will that look like in practice?

CM: What it looks like to me is, the campaign cabinet I put together is majority people of color, women, and LGBT people.I’ve made commitments about my leadership team and boards and commissions. I believe that’s the right path to get there. [Ed: Moon has pledged that her “leadership team will be at least half women, LGBTQ and people of color.”] And using a racial equity lens in the budgeting process is really important, [as is] continuing the Race and Social Justice Initiative within the city departments and expanding that and resourcing it so it really can be meaningful in terms of changing how the city operates.

ECB: This is another privilege question, and it’s about your campaign funding. Between campaign contributions and spending by PACs, Durkan is going to be able to raise far more money than you. You spent more than $110,000 of your own money getting through the primary. How much are you planning self-finance to win in November?

CM: I’m hoping not at all anymore. I’m hoping to raise all the money I need for the general from donations, and I’m working my ass off to do that. It’s hard with a $500 limit, and most of the people on my side are not $500 donors. So I’m working really hard to raise as much as I can, because you’re right, we will be outspent two to one, if not three to one. So we need to make up for it in people power and smarts.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue doing interviews like this one, which take an average of about 8-10 hours from start to finish. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers like you. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: Seen and Not Heard

Image result for oak view group arena seattle

1. One of the lead investors for Oak View Group’s winning bid to redevelop Key Arena, billionaire investor and Boston Celtics minority owner David Bonderman, resigned from the board of Uber yesterday after cracking a sexist joke about female leaders during a company-wide meeting of the ridesharing company.  The meeting was aimed at addressing sexual harassment and hostile working conditions for women at Uber. Bonderman made the comment as board member Ariana Huffington was trying to explain how having one woman on a company’s board made it more likely that more women would join when Bonderman interrupted her and, according to the Washington Post, said, “Actually, what it shows is, it’s much likely there’ll be more talking.” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick took a leave of absence this week, promising to come back as “Travis 2.0,” after ignoring complaints of sexual harassment at the company for years.

Bonderman issued a statement apologizing for his “joke” and is no longer on the board. Still, in the wake of a massive online effort to silence the five female council members who voted against the other stadium deal, should Seattle be inking an arena agreement with a guy who “jokes” that women should be seen and not heard?

2. Fundraising for the August (really mid-July) mayoral election kicked into high gear last month, particularly for presumptive frontrunner Jenny Durkan, who raised more than $160,000 in May and has continued to bring in donations at a steady pace in June. Durkan’s contributors are a who’s who of the Seattle political establishment, ranging from developers (Martin Smith III, Martin Smith Real Estate) to current and former city council members (Sally Bagshaw, Tim Burgess, Sally Clark, Jan Drago), philanthropists (Dorothy Bullitt) and ex-governors (Christine Gregoire and her husband Mike).

Civic activist Cary Moon came in second in fundraising this month, with $67,800, including $250 from city council member Mike O’Brien. O’Brien also contributed $250 to Nikkita Oliver, an attorney and criminal justice reform advocate who is also running for mayor. So far, O’Brien has not thrown any financial support to former mayor Mike McGinn, a close O’Brien ally during McGinn’s 2009-2013 term. Overall, McGinn raised less money in May than not just Moon and Durkan but Oliver, and only shows higher fundraising numbers than former state representative Jessyn Farrell because Farrell was barred from campaigning for most of the month, until she resigned her state position; yesterday, Farrell announced that she had raised more than $50,000.

Meanwhile, incumbent Mayor Ed Murray, who announced last month that he would not seek reelection, returned $8,825 in contributions in May, including donations from Bullitt Foundation founder Dorothy Bullitt, developer Richard Hedreen, and at least three members of the mayor’s own staff: Ryan Biava, Joe Mirabella, and Drue Nyenhuis, who received refunds of $350, $375, and $500, respectively.

I’ve put together a spreadsheet showing how the candidates’ fundraising stacks up for May, which I’ll update as new numbers for that month come in; the sheet includes a few notable contributions as well as a somewhat eye-popping expenditure by mayoral candidate Michael Harris, a self-proclaimed “no-new-taxes” candidate who announced his campaign on a conservative radio talk show. Harris, according to his filings, spent $1,386 on “alterations for candidate’s clothing” at Nordstrom.

3. By the end of this year, if all goes according to plan, I’ll have lived in three different apartments, and at least two city council districts, over a three-year period. As a renter, that’s just part of the deal: My last landlord (this guy) raised my rent without addressing some major problems with the place, and my current apartment costs too much for a studio unit in an old house that’s held together with duct tape, 100 years of paint, and prayers that SDCI doesn’t knock on the door. That means that I’ll have to re-register to vote at my new address—something homeowners never have to think about, but renters are supposed to take care of every time they move.

Naturally, between scrambling to come up with first, last, and deposit, arranging for movers or renting a U-Haul, setting up heat, electricity, Internet, and water, and filing dozens of change-of-address forms, tenants sometimes forget that they have to re-register if they want to vote. This has consequences; according to the US Census, just 21 percent of renters who moved in the last year voted in the most recent election, compared to 41 percent who had lived in their residence for five years or more.

Yesterday,  the city council’s energy and environment committee voted unanimously to move forward with legislation that will add voter registration and change-of-address information to the packets that landlords must give tenants when they sign or renew their leases. The proposal, council staffer Aly Pennucci noted, has been controversial among some landlords, who have argued that it represents an unnecessary additional burden. It would be easier to sympathize with that argument if landlords were actually being asked to do anything new, but the pages with voter information will be added to the packet the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections already makes available to landlords online; the only conceivable “burden” is the need to print out latest version of the document. The new information would add about five pages to renter packets.

4. Pedestrian Chronicles has the scoop on an innovative new proposal to give low-income tenants access to reduced-fare ORCA cards where they live, giving renters access to a benefit that is typically provided by employers. Sixty-eight percent of residents at market-rate buildings get reduced-cost ORCA cards through their jobs, PedChron notes, compared to just 21 percent of tenants in subsidized housing. Find out more about how Capitol Hill Housing hopes to flip that equation at Pedestrian Chronicles.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

 

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Jenny Durkan

Image result for jenny durkan
via Twitter @jennydurkan

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Note: This post has been edited to reflect that Bertha Knight Landes was elected, not appointed, to a two-year term; she was defeated in her reelection bid by a politically unknown man. No other woman has ever been elected mayor of Seattle.

Former US Attorney Jenny Durkan, if elected, will be the first woman elected mayor to a full four-year term in Seattle’s history as well as the first lesbian mayor (Bertha Knight Landes was elected and served for two years nearly a century ago). But ask anyone who pays attention to local politics to describe her in a couple of words and they’ll likely say, “Establishment candidate,” or perhaps, “Ed Murray 2.0.”

Durkan, an early Obama appointee whose work on police accountability helped lead to a Justice Department investigation into allegations of biased policing and excessive use of force at the Seattle Police Department, has a long history of fighting for civil rights and police reform at the federal level. She also has a reputation for being tough on crime, as the attorney who shut down the Colucurcio crime family in Seattle and prosecuted Ahmed Ressam, the wannabe terrorist who trained in Afghanistan and crossed the Canada-US border with materials for a suitcase bomb in 1999. But it’s her status as a member of a wealthy and influential family of Democratic Party players that has earned her the “establishment” label, along with an endorsement from the political arm of the Metropolitan Seattle Chamber of Commerce and a platform that tracks the current mayor’s positions on issues like homelessness, density, and the legality of a city income tax.

I sat down with Durkan last week at Voxx Coffee in downtown Seattle.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: You mentioned at a recent forum that you agreed with Murray’s decision, early in the process of proposing the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, to pull back on allowing duplexes and triplexes in single-family zones. You also suggested there should have been more neighborhood input into the final HALA package. What do you think the mayor got right and wrong about HALA?

Jenny Durkan [JD]: I think he landed in mostly the right spot. I think he was dealing with some pretty strong competing interests—from people who wanted affordable housing to people who wanted to keep the neighborhoods the same to developers who said, ‘I have an economic reality myself,’ and I think they struck a pretty good balance. I think the mayor’s decision to pull back that portion of the plan that would have allowed the duplexes and triplexes in single-family zones was the right decision, from a purely political, pragmatic standpoint.

“If people believe in something here in Seattle, we’ll put our money where our mouth is. But the obligation you have as an elected leader is to make sure that you honor that trust, because you want to be able to go back to them and say, ‘You gave us this money for this purpose. Here’s what we’ve done with it.'”

ECB: If the goal was to get more neighborhood buy-in on HALA, it didn’t work—the same people who opposed the plan then seem to all still oppose it now.

JD: That’s true. But I think you could have seen the whole thing unwound. I don’t think you’d have the agreement and the upzones that are going to provide and bring online tens of thousands of new units of affordable housing and create a public fund of additional money that we can use for that purpose.  I think it very well could have come unwound and the whole thing would have been gutted, and once you pull that thread and unwind it, you’re back to a process that’s going to last years. We can’t wait years for housing. We just can’t.

ECB: Former mayor Mike McGinn has repeatedly implied that Murray has been profligate with spending on new initiatives during his term, and that the level of spending the city has been doing during the boom may not be sustainable in a downturn. What do you think of that critique—has Murray been a spendthrift?

JD: Here’s what I think is going to be critically important for the new mayor coming in. There has got to be a scrub of where we are in each one of these large levies, some of which are expiring, some of which aren’t, to make sure that we can account for how the money is being spent. I’ve lived in this town for a very long time—I was born and raised here—and I’ve seen many economic downturns. One will happen. And what happens in boom times in Seattle is, people tax themselves. Government starts trying to figure out, how can we push parts of the budget to other areas, and offload what you would normally consider operational costs that a city would do with its core resources into one-time funding.

“What I hear everywhere I go is people want to know, what’s the plan [for homelessness]? I think the city gets  in its bunker sometimes and doesn’t communicate loudly or clearly enough to the public at large what the plan is and how it’s going to be measured.”

ECB: Can you give a couple of examples?

JD: Road maintenance. Are we paying for what we’re supposed to be paying for out of the [Move Seattle] levy that we passed [in 2015]? Are we paying for regular maintenance projects that should be coming out of of the general fund? I’m not saying that is what’s happening. but I know what government does is, you start thinking, ‘I need more money today for homeless  encampments—where am I going to get it from?’ You’ve got to know what’s there. You’ve got to understand what budgeting mechanisms have been used to carry various parts of the city forward and which of those are sustainable and which of those will expire, and if they expire, how much is it going to cut into your central mission? We have a bunch of big and important levies that are going to start expiring, and the needs haven’t gotten less. They’ve gotten more. But there’s only so much capacity you can have to tax people and to spend it efficiently.

ECB: And yet, as long as I’ve been in Seattle, through downturns and boom times, we’ve always been willing to tax ourselves to pay for our priorities.

JD: I think we’re one of the most generous cities, because if people believe in something here in Seattle, we’ll put our money where our mouth is. But the obligation you have as an elected leader is to make sure that you honor that trust, because you want to be able to go back to them and say, ‘You gave us this money for this purpose. Here’s what we’ve done with it.’ In this region, we’re so lucky, because if people feel like you’re using the money for what you said you were going to use it for, and they can see results, they’ll keep giving you the green light.

ECB: I think one frustration you’re seeing right now is that people feel like they can’t see the results on homelessness, because it’s getting worse. What approach would you take to produce results that would be visible and measurable?

JD: The first thing you have to do is, you have to have an honest and open plan that includes making sure that the service providers are brought to [meet] the current needs of the homeless community and not the needs of 10 or 15 years ago. We have to continue to demand that they meet the standards that we’re setting and that they’re in alignment with not just providing short-term emergency shelter, but that we actually have a path to providing homes.

What I hear everywhere I go is people want to know, what’s the plan? I think the city gets  in its bunker sometimes and doesn’t communicate loudly or clearly enough to the public at large what the plan is and how it’s going to be measured. And so I think you have to do that. I think you have to sit down with people, and the next mayor has to come in and say, Where’s our pathway? Now, what are our conclusions? And lay out very clearly, Here’s our framework. Here’s what we’re going to do for these various populations. And make it a strong collaborative effort not just in Seattle, but regionally, because you can’t solve this problem just at the borders of the city.

“It makes no sense that we can have a site where we can have someone come in for a needle exchange, and you hand them the clean needle and you say, ‘Okay, go to the alley. Go to the park. Go to the street where you might OD and die in the middle of the night.’ And you have no access to health care treatment services or even someone to talk to.”

ECB: Since you consider homelessness a regional problem, do you support the regional sales tax that’s supposed to be on the ballot in 2018?

JD: It hasn’t been proposed yet. I support the concept and the need for regional solutions, and I want to look clearly at what is going to be proposed.

ECB: You’ve said that in the Trump era, cities are going to have to figure out how to have local policies that reflect our values, and a local tax to address homelessness would seem to fit right into that.

JD: I think it’s a likely solution. But if you read the Poppe Report, in one reading, it says we have the resources we need—we just don’t have them arrayed in the right direction. But if you listen to people, not just here in Seattle but in the surrounding areas, it’s clear that if we have them, they’re not being utilized on a regional basis. So I think it’s possible that we need more resources, but I think we always jump to, ‘We need to support a tax.’

ECB: Barb Poppe has said herself that she thinks we need to spend more on our response to homelessness. And her report was talking mostly about shelter—the contention was that Seattle could get everybody under some kind of roof for the night, not that we could provide permanent housing for everyone without additional funds.

JD: Correct. And then you have the big component that’s not accounted for, which is mental health treatment dollars and addiction treatment, because you never will come close to addressing this need if you don’t have resources there. As you know, most of the money for treatment flows through the county and the shelter money flows through the city, and there’s never been a coordinated response to say, ‘Okay, what are we getting from that stream of money, and what more do we need to do to provide meaningful treatment and what are the other places where you can intercede?’ I think there could be much greater coordination between the city and the county. Because there are pretty clear and established pathways to homelessness and we have to have a holistic view in terms of not just getting people off the streets but preventing them from ending up there in the first instance.

“A friend that I’ve known for 20, 30 years—he’s a guy who’s on his feet 10 hours a day, working, working, working—finally was able to buy a duplex down in Georgetown four years ago, and for him, these laws had a huge impact.”

ECB: What would that holistic view include? Access to treatment on demand, including rehab? Because that gets very expensive very quickly.

JD: It’s very expensive. That’s why I say we as a society do not spend enough money on mental health services and addiction treatment. If you’re a poor person who has a problem with addiction, your ability to get meaningful treatment or access to treatment is marginal at best. One of the reasons our opiate addition problem has increased so much is that there just aren’t the [treatment] alternatives, and there are a lot of other barriers. Opioid addiction is one of the hardest addictions to really treat. Someone can start treatment, and they’ll drop out. And they’ll start again, and they’ll drop out. It take several efforts, usually, to keep anyone in any kind of sustained sobriety. And so we really suffer as a society, because we treat addiction as a moral failing or a personal failing. It’s not. It’s a health care problem, and it is one of the most misunderstood health care problems that we have in our society. There are so many other problems we have that we end, as taxpayers, paying for, so it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

ECB: Do you support the idea of a supervised drug-consumption site?

JD: Here’s what I think. We have a huge injectable heroin problem in this city. You go to any city park, alley, street, or neighborhood in any part of the city and you can see that it’s there. The battle and the discussions we’re having now almost mirror exactly the debates around safe needle sites. I mean it is the same arguments: ‘Its legitimizes heroin.’ ‘It’s saying it’s okay to shoot up.’ It’s not. It was harm reduction and this is a harm reduction measure now. It makes no sense that we can have a site where we can have someone come in for a needle exchange, and you hand them the clean needle and you say, ‘Okay, go to the alley. Go to the park. Go to the street where you might OD and die in the middle of the night.’ And you have no access to health care treatment services or even someone to talk to. It is not a solution standing by itself, but I think it is part of a humane health care solution for dealing with a very real problem.

ECB: To take that example one step further, Vancouver is experimenting with providing heroin to some people with opiate addiction, which also reduces the risk of overdose from synthetic adulterants like fentanyl. Should we try that here?

JD: I don’t think a city can do that. I think you would just end up shutting down your possibility of having a health care solution. But what we do need to have is more access to methadone, to bupe [buprenorphine, a drug that reduces cravings and prevents withdrawal symptoms] , and to Narcan [an overdose-reversal drug] in every facility. One of the things that was said [at a community forum] last night that I think is true is that Narcan is kind of like the CPR of today. We’ve done a good job of distributing it to our first responders but we need to think about what are other places where we need to have that available and making sure people know how to use it. One of the [positive] things about having a monitored consumption site is that there is a health care professional on site who can make sure that someone doesn’t die, and who can give them information about treatment alternatives.

ECB: You said recently that you’re skeptical that a citywide income tax would be legal. Can you elaborate on why you think it might not be, and would you pursue it further if elected?

JD: If I could wave my wand, we would have a statewide income tax tomorrow.

ECB: OK, you don’t have a wand.

JD: Nobody does, but that’s what they’re trying to do, is wave a wand.

Look: I think if there’s a time to make s test case, now’s the time to do it. I am not persuaded that the legal landscape has changed. You have two barriers. The first is the RCW, the state law that prohibits cities from establishing an income tax. Then you have the state constitution, and in multiple cases, the [Washington State] Supreme Court has held that an income tax is unconstitutional. People think the makeup of our state Supreme Court might change that second outcome, but you still have to get around the first one. I’m skeptical that it will meet the legal test. I’m not skeptical that we need different kinds of funding. We cannot continue as a city, region, or state to fund the things we need to fund on the tax system we have in place.

ECB: Some landlords have claimed that new renter protections, which bar landlords from refusing to rent to people because of their source of income and provide more time for tenants to pay all the up-front expenses of moving in to a new apartment, will put them out of business. Do you support those tenant protections?

JD: On [Section 8 housing voucher discrimination, you absoluately shouldn’t be able to do it. If a person otherwise is a suitable tenant, the fact that you wouldn’t take them because they’re poor is wrong.

On some of the other tenant protections, I think that these issues are real. There are incredible barriers for renters. But I also think we have to look at the landlords. A friend that I’ve known for 20, 30 years—he’s a guy who’s on his feet 10 hours a day, working, working, working—finally was able to buy a duplex down in Georgetown four years ago, and for him, these laws had a huge impact. He does okay, but it’s also his retirement [income]. What if you rent to someone and they don’t have to [immediately] come up with a security deposit, and they trash it in that first 30 days and leave? You then have nothing to fix it with. If you’re just a person who’s renting out the other side of your duplex, you feel lot more than the large property owner.

So seeing what the impacts are on these landlords and listening to them is going to be important to make sure that there aren’t these unintended consequences. There’s now becoming a gray market, where people just won’t post [rental listings], and they’ll only [rent] to people they know, and that’s going to shrink available stock too. So I think you have to look at what it’s doing to the market, what it’s doing to the small owners. But the concept of making rental housing affordable for people—absolutely.

 

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Bob Hasegawa

Longtime state legislator Bob Hasegawa, who was elected to the state senate in 2012 after serving 10 years in the house, is proud of his status as the underdog among the frontrunners in this year’s race for mayor. Unlike his legislative colleague Jessyn Farrell, who resigned her seat in the state house so she could raise money for her mayoral bid, Hasegawa says he plans to keep his day job, which means he won’t be able to raise a penny until the legislature is no longer in session, which could put him out of the fundraising game until July. Hasegawa has a reputation in the legislature as an iconoclast who supports Republican efforts to stymie Sound Transit, and as an advocate for a state-run bank, a proposal he wants to translate to the municipal level. We sat down at Victrola Coffee Roasters on Beacon Hill.

The C Is for Crank (ECB):You’re running in an incredibly crowded field, and you can’t raise money as long as the legislature remains in session. You have some name recognition in your district, but you aren’t necessarily known more broadly as a civic leader. Do you see a path to victory?

Bob Hasegawa (BH): I absolutely do. When I ran for the [11th District state] senate seat in 2012, I did it with no money. So to me, it’s the opportunity to show that people united can defeat money in politics. Having this bar against fundraising really provided a way to put an exclamation point behind that concept, because people right now are so disenchanted with the political system, they think, what does their one vote count when people are throwing so many dollars into campaigns? The political machine tries to disorganize the people because they see organized people as a threat. So I’m about reversing that political paradigm.

[At this point, we’re interrupted by a young man who tells Hasegawa, “Bob, you have my vote, without a doubt.”]

BH: You know what was so cool? When I had my announcement of my campaign at the steps of the Wells Fargo building downtown, there was a bus driver who saw us on the steps there and he opened his door and said, “Go get ’em, Bob!” Then a couple of minutes later, I was talking and I got interrupted again by a UPS driver—”Give ’em hell, Bob!” It was really cool. I think that’s where the people are, at the city level. The city has become nothing but top-down. The people are not being involved meaningfully involved in the decisions that are coming down on top of them. If you talk to people around the neighborhood, you’ll see this whole neighborhood gentrifying. The city wants to do a lot of good work increasing housing stock, paving sidewalks, all that stuff, but their solution to do that is to keep going to the same regressive tax wells  that they’ve always gone to. A lot of these things should be paid for out of the general fund, but they’re adding excess property tax levies, sales tax increases, and all these things that are making it just too expensive for regular working people and low-income people to stay in the city.

“The political machine tries to disorganize the people because they see organized people as a threat. So I’m about reversing that political paradigm.”

ECB: The mayor’s proposed soda tax is arguably more regressive than any other, because it’s not only a regressive sales tax, but a regressive sales tax on a product [sugar-sweetened soda] thats disproportionately purchased by people of color. Do you oppose the soda tax?

BH: I’m open to it. I know that the Teamsters oppose it and some of the community groups are split on it. Some support it as long as the revenues from those taxes come back to improving access to healthy foods that they don’t have in places like Southeast Seattle. I don’t want to say that I’m for it just yet, but as long as the revenue sources are appropriately appropriated, I could easily be supportive of it. [ECB: On Monday, Hasegawa issued a statement denouncing the soda tax.]

ECB: What do you mean by the same regulatory well?

BH: Sales tax increases, those kinds of things, where there’s no means testing to them. The general fund is supposed to be the source for providing all these services. But they outsourced the metropolitan parks district, then they  passed the housing levy, then the transportation levy—it’s just piling things on top of each other.

ECB: The argument in each of those cases was that the general fund couldn’t provide adequate revenues for parks, housing, or transportation on its own. What’s your solution to that problem?

BH: Creating a municipally owned public bank that’s owned by the people. It just allows us to keep control of our tax revenue here locally, so we control how we want to invest that money. And it provides not only access to our own tax revenue, but it allows us to leverage those tax dollars on an order of magnitude.  For instance, if we’re able to capitalize a municipal bank with even just $100 million, that leverages out to a billion dollars worth of lending capacity, and that’s within standard banking practice.

“I think they were like kids in a candy store. They got the authority to pass something without limitations, so they shot the moon.”

ECB: You’ve been pushing for a state-owned bank for many years, yet it hasn’t happened. Why not?

BH: One wonders why that is. Public banking is a standard tool all around the world. Other countries that have had public banks have ended up privatizing, just because that’s where the political pressure is. If you don’t have enough people power to protect your public institutions, then you get them taken away from you. and that’s what it’s basically been here. We don’t have the grassroots people power to protect u

ECB: You told the South Seattle Emerald that you felt the vote on Sound Transit 3 last year was “rigged.” Can you explain what you meant by that?

BH: “Rigged” probably wasn’t the right word. I think people think of “rigged” as, you’re changing vote counts. I wasn’t saying that at all. What I was saying was that it’s kind of a gerrymandered district, so they know what the outcome of a vote’s going to be before it happens.

We were told by Sound Transit and all of the advocates that the full ST3 package was $15 billion. We had sticker shock when we heard $15 billion. That was larger than even the basic transportation budget that we were going to pass. which also included the largest gas tax increase in the history of the state at 12 cents. Then Sound Transit claimed that an adult owning a median-value motor vehicle would pay an additional 43 bucks a year on the [motor vehicle excise tax]. Forty-three dollars doesn’t sound like the average MVET that I’ve heard from constituents. It’s in the hundreds.  So then what ends up on the ballot? Fifty-four billion dollars.

ECB: That’s in year of expenditure dollars—it includes inflation.

BH: No I don’t think so. I think they were like kids in a candy store. They got the authority to pass something without limitations, so they shot the moon. [ECB: The $15 billion figure Sound Transit used referred to the amount that Sound Transit would collect in taxes, in 2017 (uninflated) dollars, over 15 years. However, the tax was not limited to 15 years and the $54 billion figure includes inflation over 25 years.] They’re accusing me of being anti-Sound Transit and anti-Sound Transit 3. I want to make it clear I’m pro-Sound Transit and pro-Sound Transit 3. I used to be a bus driver. I’m an ATU 587 member [the Metro Transit union]. I was. I drove a bus.

So I voted for this bill [SB 5001, which would have made Sound Transit’s board an elected body], which is the basis of the accusation of me being anti-Sound Transit 3 . This is a Republican bill, by Senator [Steve] O’ Ban, but this is what the bill does: It changes the board of Sound Transit from appointed to elected, because I don’t like being lied to.

“Everybody’s so intent on trying to entice developers to do the right thing, and developers will never set aside more than they need to for affordable housing. We’ll never be able to set aside enough to make sure that no one is homeless unless we start to build public housing.”

ECB: That bill would have completely disrupted the board and taken away power from Seattle.

BH: Of course it would. That’s democracy.

ECB: When [then-King County Council member] Rob McKenna was on the board, it was so disruptive the future of light rail was put in jeopardy. Do you want 18 Rob McKennas on the board?

BH: If you think democracy is not worth fighting for, then yes, you would take that position. People want someone who will be a voice for our city. Why does it take forever for Ballard or West Seattle to get their spurs? You can’t get to either location from anywhere. The way Sound Transit came through [Southeast Seattle] originally, there was no sensitivity to the community’s needs. It was a creature of somebody’s vision that a world-class city needed to have light rail from downtown to the airport. So they just blew something through the surface level—whatever el cheapo way to get from downtown to SeaTac—and I had a bill that would have helped with parking mitigation. They were anticipating what they call hide and rides, which are suburbanites who come into the city, park in neighborhoods, and take the light rail downtown. So to mitigate that, the city of Seattle created these restricted parking zones [RPZs], where you have to have a permit to park in the neighborhoods around these light rail stations, which is fine. But in south Seattle—and this is the poorest part of the city of Seattle—they want to charge you $60 for a permit to park in your own  neighborhood. One might argue the equity of that in and of itself, because in low-income neighborhoods, you’ve got lots of people living under one roof to try and consolidate resources, so you’ve got at least one car there. So you’ve got multiples of 60 bucks to park in your own neighborhood. But the real social inequity is that in other areas of the city, they’re free. That’s not right.

ECB: Where are RPZs free?

BH: Capitol Hill, Montlake, Laurelhurst, North Queen Anne—places where they have a major disruptor, like Group Health. They require the major disruptor to subsidize a lot of the cost. In the south end, they didn’t require the major disruptor, which is Sound Transit, to subsidize any of the cost. The city of Seattle is saying, ‘We’re only doing an RPZ because Sound Transit caused the problem. So meantime, as they point the finger at each other, the residents are the ones who are having to pay for it.

ECB: I think the response from Sound Transit would be that they’re providing mobility to people who would otherwise have to drive, which makes them the opposite of a major disruptor. You don’t find that argument compelling?

BH: No, not at all. It costs them nothing to do it. There’s only a total of 2,500 of these permits. It’s like budget dust in the $54 billion authority that we just gave them, but they are just adamantly opposed to it.

ECB: What is your definition of gentrification and how would you deal with it?

BH: I don’t know if there is a definition. It’s the loss of the economic, ethnic, and cultural diversity—what the city has always had. The income inequality that’s facing the whole country right now is being demonstrated to an extreme in Seattle, because you’ve got so many people making six-figure salaries moving in and displacing minimum-wage people.

When you look at the [Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda] set-aside for South Lake Union, they only require 2 percent of the units to be affordable, whatever affordable is. I think other cities are at 25 percent or above.

ECB: So what’s your alternative?

HB: A public bank.

ECB: How does that provide affordable housing?

BH: It can provide the financing for it. [It can provide] short term loans. It can help purchase property, or develop on properties that we already own, or refurbish existing properties to put them into use for affordable housing. What I’m interested in is building more public housing, because I don’t think anybody’s been focused on that. Everybody’s so intent on trying to entice developers to do the right thing, and developers will never set aside more than they need to for affordable housing. We got away from public housing back in the day. People were saying we’re just building slums or whatever, and there’s some truth to that, but I think we can manage that with better regulation and administration of the programs. We’ll never be able to set aside enough to make sure that no one is homeless unless we start to build public housing.

“We have to give [the neighborhood councils] a significant budget and empower them to make the decisions on implementing those budgets locally through their council structures, but they have to show that they are actually representative of the neighborhoods that they claim to represent.”

ECB: What do you think of Mayor Murray’s decision to cut ties with the neighborhood councils? That was an effort to get more new voices included in city planning, including, importantly, people of color.

BH: I think we need to be going the opposite direction from dismantling the neighborhood councils to empowering them more. The city’s argument was that the community councils don’t necessarily represent the diversity of the people in the community, and I think that’s true. They’re pretty much white, middle-class, older—even in the Rainier Valley. That’s the people that have the time to do it. I think grassroots organizing is the hardest job in the world, and the most underappreciated, and that’s why it never gets done. But it is the only way democracy can succeed. So if we are going to reverse our top-down structure, which is what the city has become, to a more bottom-up structure, we have to put a lot of work into it. So I want to fund the neighborhood councils so they can go into the neighborhoods and start organizing.

ECB: Don’t you think that the people who current run the neighborhood councils have a strong incentive not to organize the people who’ve been left out?

BH: Of course.

ECB: So how are you going to motivate people who like things the way they are to go out and organize to change it?

BH: Well, we have to give them a significant budget and empower them to make the decisions on implementing those budgets locally through their council structures, but they have to show that they are actually representative of the neighborhoods that they claim to represent. So once you reach some kind of a threshold to prove that you do have true community engagement from everybody—all sectors of the neighborhood that you’re in charge —and give them a significant budget. Do we want a new community center in this area? Sidewalks? What do you want to do with that money? You make the decisions, but with that privilege comes some responsibly too. You have to acknowledge that you have to accept some share of the growth that Seattle is inevitably going to have to deal with, and each neighborhood council has to accept the responsibility that comes with the privilege of making those decisions.

ECB: What do you think of the mayor’s response to homelessness, particularly the homeless encampment sweeps?

BH: Sweeps – man, that’s a horrible strategy. We need to have someplace for them to go even if it’s a temporary home .When you’re getting booted around here, there, and everywhere and chased around like the Keystone Kops. I mean, it’s stupid. It’s so undignified. It’s not treating people with respect. And every time they move, they have to leave half their stuff behind. The city, as a bare minimum Band-Aid, should provide litter pickup, sanitation facilities, and whatnot. Let them hang out until we can actually get them permanently placed someplace, but the strategy of just chasing them around from place to place—that’s just dumb.

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