Introduction: While Jon Grant and I have often agreed on how to preserve and increase affordable housing (including our criticisms of former Mayor Ed Murray’s H.A.L.A.), we did not have any reason to speak when Jon ran against my former boss Tim Burgess for City Council in 2015. Now in 2017, Jon Grant is competing again for that City Council seat. With downtown interest groups lining up like sheep behind Teresa Mosqueda — even though she provides few specifics on how she would govern — I realized I should be open-minded about Jon Grant and hear his vision for Seattle. With many of my neighbors yearning for a “community voice” on the City Council, Jon Grant’s answers pleasantly surprised. Here is our interview of Jon Grant:
1. Community Engagement: Interest groups are shoveling money toward your opponent Teresa Mosqueda in the form of “independent expenditures.” This is concerning to many voters that Mosqueda will be beholden to those interest groups rather than to regular residents. How will you, Jon Grant, if elected as an at-large City Councilmember, engage with and listen to residents rather than to lobbyists?
Jon Grant: I think that one of the big questions facing our city is whether or not there will be a strong community voice on Seattle City Council in the next couple of years. I think when we talk about the future growth that our city is envisioning, I think it’s important that community members be a part of these conversations and the kind of top down approach we have seen from former Mayor Ed Murray’s office, it doesn’t give folks at opportunity to make sure that growth is going to happen in an equitable way. And I think that we see this in all part of Seattle. We saw this in the recent upzone proposal in the Chinatown International District where there were residents that were rightly concerned about the upzones without strong affordability mandates could result in the cultural and economic displacement of their community. And I think that many community members are very familiar with the current approach to guiding growth: the city puts together a stakeholder group. They tell you that the stakeholder group is representative of you and your interests. They come up with a plan behind closed doors and then they implement the plan in your neighborhood and you find out about it after the fact. And then after the plan is already – the ink is already dry on that plan – then they ask you for input after the fact. And I think that that is a real problem in terms of making sure that we get to good outcomes with the growth and explosive development that we’re seeing happening in our city. And in terms of the Chinatown International District, what we saw there is that there were many community leaders and longtime trusted organizations like InterIm, a nonprofit housing developer, saying to the city, hold on now, can we have a little bit of an opportunity to look at whether or not that we’re getting the best deal. And I think that my pint of frustration starts and I think what I hear from a lot of folks in the community is that when this growth occurs we don’t ask enough from the private sector to pay its fair share. And part of the reason that that happens, part of the reason that we get these raw deals is that we don’t have a community voice at City Hall, certainly not with our former Mayor. And part of the reason is that we have developers and large interest groups and big corporate interests funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy these elections. And until we really have a shift or a change in that balance of power, we’re going to continue to see these inequitable outcomes in these development decisions.
So, for my part, I’ve taken a pledge not to accept any money from any developers or corporations so that way the community knows that I’ll be a voice for the community, that I will be accountable to them and no one else. And I think that until we get more candidates to take that pledge and to push back against these elections getting bought, we’re going to continue to get more of the same. And I also think it’s important to point that, for full transparency, I was on the Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda committee. And the process that I just described earlier; it was exactly that, right? It was a closed door meeting of stakeholders, but it’s important to point out that over half of that committee was represented by downtown developers. 50% of the committee and I don’t that that is actually representative of our communities. Now I was the one vote on the HALA committee of the 28 people who convened to abstain on the final proposal and to abstain on the Grand Bargain in particular because I feel it did not go far enough in asking more from developers and more accountability. And that’s why for our campaign, we’ve put out a call for 25% of all new development to be affordable to working class and low-income people. Because if neighborhoods are going to accept the upzones in their community, they need to get something back out of it, right? The public should get something out of those upzones because developers are going to be making millions, if not billions of dollars, hand over fist with these upzones and the public should get something back. If they’re going to be accepting growth in that community. But that’s not what we’re going to get. Instead the Grand Bargain” in some parts of town only requires as little of 2% of each building to be affordable to a working class person and 2% is just not enough.
2. Managing Growth: Managing Growth has become a key issue of the 2017 campaign. With Mayor Ed Murray leaving office in disgrace, City Councilmembers no longer need to fear retribution from questioning his so-called “Housing Affordability & Livability Agenda” (HALA). As one of the earliest and most vocal skeptics of HALA, what will you do to encourage your Council colleagues to revamp HALA by injecting actual Affordability and Livability?
Jon Grant: I think that I would really encourage a citywide conversation in each community across the city to really get input first before we form policy on what livability means. What does it mean to have a fully connected basic bicycle plan in your community? What does it mean to have sidewalks funded so that kids can actually get to school safely? The number that I remember is that 80% of school children are within a walkable distance to their schools. But if you’re in South Seattle or North Seattle, there are no sidewalks to safely get from their home to their school and I think that is a huge problem. So when we talk about livability, it’s important to point out that the city has not ever fully funded the livability issues and it’s been kind of a second thought. And a lot of it is because it’s the influence of downtown interests on City Hall because growth should pay for growth and I’m a very vocal supporter of Impact Fees because we need to actually have the money to make sure that these livability plans can actually succeed and come into fruition, but we will never have the money – we can’t simply pass a property tax to pay for better sidewalks – the backlog is simply too huge. What we need to do is have the private sector pay their fair share. That’s why I fully support Impact Fees to pay for our infrastructure needs so that growth is paying for growth. Now if we continue to ignore the livability issues, it’s a real concern because we need to have that community voice at City Hall that’s going to push that perspective. For my part, as the citywide candidates, I would want to be going into every neighborhood from South Park to Lake City to every end of the city to make sure that it’s actually going to be not just affordable but somewhere where people want to live in the first place.
3. Basics of City Government: Many residents of Northeast Seattle are frustrated that City Councilmembers seem to focus on everything but city government. Meanwhile the streets are in disrepair, trash & graffiti are growing, the city budget has ballooned to over $5 billion, and the effectiveness of the police is once again being questioned. Recently Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) announced that they need to increase their rates AGAIN. If elected, what will you do to focus on the basics of city government and please state your position on the SPU rate increases?
Jon Grant: I think that the Seattle Public Utilities rate increase is a great example of local government gone wrong. There has been decades of growth and development and new apartment buildings, new facilities coming into our city to accommodate the growth and it’s been taxing on our utility system. But we have never imposed a growth-related fee on developers to help pay for our utility costs. And for replacing old pipes and for replacing old facilities. And, again, this is because we are one of the few cities in the Puget Sound that does not require developers to pay for those kinds of impacts on our infrastructure and now the public is going to get it in the shorts because of our not just failed planning (because that would suggest we did not know what we were doing) but because of the intentional decision to not require developers to pay their fair share. And the consequence of that is that now we’re getting these rate hikes, where if 10 or 20 years ago if we had had these Impact Fees on the books, the private sector would have been paying a larger portion of those cots rather than bouncing it on the public to make up the difference now. And so I think that really speaks to so many issues that are so pressing in City Hall, not just utilities but also about affordable housing or police reform or about all of these issues. There powerful interest groups that are more than happy to kind of tap the brakes on addressing these issues and creating progress on these issues that are most important to Seattle constituents because those are the folks who are lining the pockets of these running for office or currently in office. So I think having a politician or a candidate say that they are pledging not to take money from any of these interest groups is so important.
4. More: Any additional comments for the residents of Northeast Seattle?
Jon Grant: Yes, there is. When we talk about these issues, I think that this is a big difference between my opponent and myself. Both of us are participating in the Democracy voucher program, but over 90% of our funds come from the publicly sourced voucher program. That means we’re going to be accountable to the community. There were hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on my opponent by outside expenditure groups. I think people are tired of having their elections being bought. We need to get Big Money out of politics. So, for my part, I’m proud of the fact that we don’t have those kinds of outside spending that kind of tips the scales. And I’m very proud of the fact that over 95% of our donors live right here in Seattle. That means we have brought grass roots community support and that’s the kind of accountability that people should expect from their elected officials when they go to the ballot box in November.
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