1 Meeting to Connect

The Debates for Seattle Mayor and City Council

And then there were Two.

Our official prediction for November 7:  Finally a female mayor!

After ongoing blasts from my 8-year old daughter for my prediction that we would celebrate a female President last year, we can finally conclude with 100% certainty that “progressive” Seattle will finally overcome its odd track record of all dude mayors for the past 100 years (though I also love Tim Burgess as mayor.)

This season’s “Meeting to Connect”: THE DEBATES FOR SEATTLE MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL.

photo of bulldozer at NE 50th Street & Brooklyn on March 7, 2017

CITY COUNCIL:

Option #1

  • WHAT: City Council Candidates Debate
  • WHEN: Wednesday, October 18 at 6:00 p.m.
  • WHO: Jon Grant, Teresa Mosqueda, Lorena Gonzalez, Pat Murakami, and you.
  • HOSTED BY: Seattle City Club and Seattle Public Library
  • WHERE: Central Library 1000 Fourth Ave, Seattle, WA (downtown) or in your living room in Northeast Seattle with neighbors.
  • ATTEND: If you want attend the event live, CLICK HERE to register.
  • SUBMIT QUESTIONS: Complete City Club’s online form by CLICKING HERE.

Option #2:

  • WHEN: Saturday, Oct 14 at 9:00 a.m. (with breakfast!)
  • WHO: Jon Grant, Teresa Mosqueda, Pat Murakami, and you. (Gonzalez declined.) Moderated by C.R. Douglas!
  • HOSTED BY: Seattle Neighborhood Coalition
  • WHERE: 500 30th Ave S, Seattle, WA

MAYOR:

  • WHAT: Mayoral Debate
  • WHEN: Tuesday, October 24 at 6:30 p.m.
  • WHO: Jenny Durkan, Cary Moon, and you.
  • HOSTED BY: Seattle City Club, KING 5, KUOW, and GeekWire
  • WHERE: Starbucks Support Center 2401 Utah Street South, Seattle, WA or in your living room in Northeast Seattle with neighbors
  • ATTEND: If you want attend the event live, CLICK HERE to register.
  • SUBMIT QUESTIONS: Complete City Club’s online form by CLICKING HERE.

And now for our Wet Blanket Commentary:  We are not thrilled with either mayoral candidate regarding a key issue: managing our city’s growth. It was supremely disappointing when Durkan met privately with for-profit developers just before her announcement (were promises made?) and then instantly embraced the disappointing “Housing and Livability Agenda” (H.A.L.A.). While perplexed in 2014 when Ed Murray thought Affordable Housing could be solved in the same way as the Minimum Wage — by hastily hand-picking interest groups to meet in secret — we greeted it with an open mind when announced in 2015. But HALA has morphed into a bad dream speeding into your neighborhood on a bulldozer. It’s heavy-handed implementation by Rob Johnson is fueling displacement of existing residents while requiring embarrassingly little affordable housing (2% to 12%). The candidates must explain how they will put both the “Affordability” and the “Livability” back into HALA a.s.a.p.

We are troubled that Moon wrapped herself into an extreme “urbanist” top-down, “we know what’s best for communities” dogma. More importantly, Moon lacks the deep government administration experience of Durkan. We supported Nikkita Oliver in the primary mainly because SHE LISTENED to all communities. We hope Durkan (the likely winner) will listen and wake up to boost the community engagement and affordable housing of HALA.

For the official list of all candidates in 2017, CLICK HERE.

To see who is contributing $$$ to each of the candidates, CLICK HERE. Both Durkan and Mosqueda are benefiting MASSIVELY from interest group money through nefarious independent expenditures (I.E.’s). Durkan is benefiting from the Chamber of Commerce, which is dominated by for-profit real estate developers and big corporations. Mosqueda is benefiting from labor union dollars. Because Jon Grant is the only candidate with a bold affordable housing plan that does not steamroll neighborhoods, the Chamber of Commerce is certain to set up an I.E. against him, too.

photo from "The Stranger"

While Jon Grant and I have often agreed on how to preserve and increase affordable housing (including our criticisms of Mayor Ed Murray’s HALA proposals), we did not have any reason to speak when Jon ran against my former boss Tim Burgess in 2015. Now 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 our neighbors yearning for a “community voice” on the City Council, Jon Grant’s answers pleasantly surprised! For our recent interview of Jon Grant, CLICK HERE.

For non-snarky primers on Seattle’s general election, click HERE and HERE.

Drinking Game? We know our readers are mature and serious; therefore, suggesting that you play a drinking game while hosting a Debate Watching Party in your neighborhood falls short of our substantive approach. But here’s how the game would have worked:

  1. Everyone at the party picks a zesty local government word or phrase, like “Growth Management.
  2. Each time a candidate utters those words, Drink.
  3. Want a hangover? Pick words that you’ll hear a lot: “Equity,” “Density,” “Bike Lanes,” “Climate Change,” “I Will Protect You From Trump,” “No, I Will Protect You from Trump.”
  4. Want to stay sober? Pick words that you’ll never hear: “Budget Savings,” “Utility Bill Savings,” “Potholes,” “Pension Reform”, “I Will Charge Impact Fees Day One”, “No, I Will Charge Impact Fees Day One.

Whatever you do, VOTE. Show City Hall that, together, we have a strong community voice here in Northeast Seattle.

1 Issue to Engage

4 Ideas to Make City Hall Listen

As published recently in Crosscut.com

4 IDEAS TO MAKE CITY HALL LISTEN.

Congratulations to the surviving City Council candidates — and listen up! Residents want to know how you will listen to them — rather than to campaign donors and interest groups — if you win.
Here are four ways you can empower the entire City Council to listen more:

1. Hold City Council Meetings at Night.
Should city residents be required to use a vacation day to tell City Councilmembers their ideas and concerns? Of course not. So why does City Council conduct its meetings from 9 to 5 when most residents are working or taking their children to and from school? Typically the only people able to attend Council meetings are lobbyists or activists spurred by those lobbyists. The “Busy Majority” of residents cannot attend because they cannot be away from their jobs or families.  City Council: please hold your meetings at night — and provide child care so parents and guardians can attend.

2. Activate a 3-1-1 Call Center Available 24/7.

Do what has worked well for more than a decade in cities from San Francisco to Chicago to New York: enable people to dial an easy-to-remember phone number (3-1-1) to request city services and report concerns — from potholes to policies. The City’s Customer Service Bureau is available ONLY on weekdays and Councilmember office hours for constituents are scant or inconsistent. Few can remember the City’s non-emergency phone number and it provides only minimal services. While the “Find It Fix It” technology works for some, a 3-1-1 Call Center open 24/7 will enable residents without access to fancy iPhones to receive the best customer service. A 3-1-1 Call Center will also make our communities safer by reducing the number of non-emergency calls to 9-1-1 operators. City managers and Councilmembers could use the 3-1-1 software system to track responsiveness and results for their constituents.

3. Free Councilmembers to Spend More Time with Neighbors.

What’s the easiest way to carve out time for Councilmembers? Free them from time-consuming research required to vote on frivolous or unnecessary Resolutions. The Council should immediately amend its own rules [Section V (A)(2)] to allow abstentions on most Resolutions, except those needed for the city budget, legislative work plans, and related Ordinances. Enable the “Work Horses” in City Council to ignore the “Show Horses.”

Here’s why abstentions are so important: Certain City Councilmembers love to spend weeks drafting and lobbying their colleagues to support Resolutions that have nothing to do with city government. But City Council’s own rules require Councilmembers to vote Yes or No. Example: international affairs. Will the United Nations really care what the Seattle City Council thinks about treaties with foreign nations? No. Yet Councilmembers are spending precious hours researching them. Let Councilmembers abstain from these distractions so they can spend more time listening to constituents.  Fewer TED Talks, More Sidewalks!

4. Conduct a Poll Every Year and Share it with the Public:

After all of those community meetings, here’s what City Councilmembers really listen to: polls. Unfortunately, politicians conduct polls only when they are trying to get re-elected – whereas they should have been listening to a wide array of residents during the previous four years. They also hog the polling data for themselves. Worst of all, they are beholden to the campaign contributors who pay the pollsters. So, let’s democratize the data.  Conduct official surveys and release results to the public as cities already do in California,  Missouri, and Canada.

Methodically asking residents across the city what they think can help to prioritize funding, assist journalists, and inform community groups. Surveys would not substitute for deeper debate and discussion with neighborhood groups and vulnerable populations, but gathering information from a well-crafted, professionally conducted phone survey of residents will enhance our public discourse.

Engaging with the residents of Seattle should not be a separate chore or box to check when elected officials need something.  Connecting with constituents is the essence of being a Councilmember.

If you agree, send this website link of our Crosscut column to the City Council and to the candidates:

The link:
http://crosscut.com/2017/09/4-ways-councilmembers-can-actually-listen-to-their-constituents/

City Councilmember and candidate e-mail addresses:
council@seattle.gov,
electjongrant@gmail.com,
info@teamteresa.org,
info@votepatmurakami.org,
info@electlorenagonzalez.com

1 Fun to Enjoy

Caspar Babypants Music (in U District)

Dancing kids, smiling parents, fun music.

If you’ve got infants or toddlers in your family, don’t miss a concert by CASPAR BABYPANTS. This beloved band for babies often sings its way through Northeast Seattle — and they’ll be here again this season.

As described on their Facebook page“CASPAR BABYPANTS is Chris Ballew…making high quality intelligent simple acoustic music for kids and their parents to enjoy together.”

“4 to Explore” wrote about Caspar Babypants back in July 2015 as part of the U Village Sounds of Summer concert series. But they are a Fun to Enjoy all by themselves.

But don’t take our word for it; check out a review of their album “Night Night” by Geek Dad (CLICK HERE) and a review of “Sing Along” by Parent Map (CLICK HERE).

  • WHAT: Kids Concert by Caspar Babypants
  • WHEN: Sat, Oct 14 at 3:30 p.m.
  • WHERE: University Heights at 5031 University Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105 (on “The Ave” at NE 50th St.)
  • PARKING? Yes.
  • COST? Free
  • KID-FRIENDLY EVENT? Yes, that’s what it’s all about!

MORE: If you want to plan way ahead, the next Caspar Babypants concert in Northeast Seattle will be April 28, 2018 at the Neptune Theatre at 1303 NE 45th St, Seattle, WA 98105.

  • To hear Froggie Went a Courtin’ and other music samples (with animation!), CLICK HERE.
  • To explore their newest album “Jump for Joy” released Aug 2017, CLICK HERE.
  • As the holidays approach, enjoy their “Winter Party” CD which includes favorites Deck the Halls and Jingle Bells (CLICK HERE).

photo of bulldozer at NE 50th Street & Brooklyn on March 7, 2017

NEIGHBORHOOD: Learn more about the U District. Stroll through Farmers Market Saturday mornings. Engage the many groups: University District Community Council, the U District Partnership (formerly the Chamber of Commerce), and the City / University Community Advisory Committee (CUCAC). Fill up at the diverse eateries from Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe to Portage Bay Cafe to Shultzy’s Sausage and Beer. Adore the stores like The Trading Musician to Artist & Craftsman Supply.

Families can find other fun events this summer on the websites of Parent MapRed Tricycle, and Seattle’s Child.

1 Store to Adore

Audubon Nature Shop in Wedgwood

As cooler air breezes through Northeast Seattle, you may notice flocks of birds migrating South (wishing you could join them), while other birds gather sticks to fortify nests. Winter is Coming. (We could insert a “Three Eyed Raven” joke here, but we don’t think many of our readers watch “Game of Thrones“).

Curious about which local birds are staying and which are going? Explore all of the answers in this season’s “Store to Adore”: SEATTLE AUDUBON NATURE SHOP.

Occupying a quaint building tucked away off 35th Ave NE (just below NE 82nd Street) in the Wedgwood neighborhood, the Seattle Audubon Nature Shop is filled with books and binoculars and, most importantly, knowledgeable staff whose love of birds contagious.

As they say more eloquently on Seattle Audubon’s website, “The Seattle Audubon Nature Shop is your complete source for bird- and nature-related merchandise, providing essential funding through its profits for the activities and programs of Seattle Audubon.” And here’s the mission statement: “Seattle Audubon leads a local community in appreciating, understanding, and protecting birds and their natural habitats.”

You don’t need to be an avid bird watcher to adore this store, just fly in and browse. From here you can walk North to the other winners of our “Store to Adore” contest at the Wedgwood Community Council Picnic: Cafe Javasti, Fiddler’s InnWedgwood Broiler, and Wedgwood Ale House.

But don’t take our word for it; check out their reviews on YELP.

  • LOCATION: 8050 35th Ave NE 98115
  • HOURS: Mon thru Sat 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • To shop Seattle Audubon online: CLICK HERE.

LEARNING:  Seattle Audubon sponsors a lecture for beginning birders called “10 Gateway Birds of Seattle and How to Find Them.” Next lecture is Monday, October 23rd at 7:00 p.m. at Phinney Neighborhood Center. For details, CLICK HERE.

EVENTS:  For other events, such as “The Bird Ball” fundraiser on October 21, CLICK HERE.

ORIGIN:  It’s named after John James Audubon (1785-1851) an ornithologist and painter who first published The Birds of America in 1827. The first statewide Audubon Society was formed in Massachusetts in 1896. The National Audubon Society formed in 1905. And, to answer your next history question, Alfred Hitchcock’s film “The Birds” was released in 1963.

SERIOUSLY: Just when you thought you could escape a “Store to Adore” article without a downer: City Hall’s reckless policy to fuel unfettered real estate development is rapidly endangering our city’s “Tree Canopy,” which is — you guessed it — bad for birds. Endangering our city’s long-cherished, hard-earned tree canopy is worse for many other reasons, including The Environment that politicians say they want to protect. Learn more about the issue by CLICKING HEREHEREHERE, and pages 85-88 of HERE.  For an example of the destruction being repeated all over our city, read the Seattle Times article about City Hall refusing to help a North Seattle neighborhood save a precious 100-year old cedar tree from a developer’s ax: CLICK HERE. The root of the problem: City Hall needs to reign in real estate developers from chopping down trees in order to Build, Baby, Build.

NEIGHBORHOOD:  To explore more of Wedgwood, subscribe to Wedgwood View and the Wedgwood Echo.  We have featured a lot of cool stuff in Wedgwood, including Wedgwood Arts Festival (every July), Veraci Pizza, and the Wedgwood Ale House.  4 to Explore is in Wedgwood a lot (it’s where our P.O. Box is located) so, for the latest on the neighborhood, be sure to “like” 4 to Explore on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. You can also attend the Wedgwood Community Council monthly meetings.

Uncategorized

Interview of Jon Grant for City Council 2017

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 EngagementInterest 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.

 

#  #  #

Uncategorized

Nikkita Oliver exclusive interview with “4 to Explore”

On May 8, 2017, “4 to Explore” conducted a phone interview of Ms. Nikkita Oliver, one of the prominent candidates for Seattle Mayor.

Ballots will be mailed mid-July 2017 and are due by Tuesday, August 1st for the initial election. The August election will decide which top two candidates face each other in a November run-off. For all candidates running, CLICK HERE.

I was going to wait until our Summer edition of “4 to Explore” to publish this interview, but am publishing it now because Ms. Oliver was not able to attend the Northeast District Council (NEDC) mayoral candidates forum on June 8. Many residents of Northeast Seattle are still probably wondering, “Who is Nikkita Oliver?” Once again, 4 to Explore is there!

Here is the full transcript of that interview.

———————

PRIORITIES: What do you want to accomplish in your first 100 days in office as Mayor?

Nikkita Oliver:  The first thing – the most important thing — is a comprehensive housing plan. This affordable housing and homelessness crisis that we’re in…needs a plan that has a lot of foresight and a vision to address both immediate and long term concerns: Building housing, addressing rent stabilization, speculative capital, [and] a progressive income tax. Some will take years; some can be immediate. There are city properties we could leverage for transitional housing. We need to have conversations with people in encampments to ask about solutions that will work for them.

Our city is at a really important time. Housing is connected to many other things: transportation, human services, revenue, density and development.

One thing our city is really missing is a long term vision of where we want to go.

 

NEIGHBORHOODS: Last summer, Mayor Murray stopped supporting the 13 Neighborhood District Councils that represent every neighborhood in Seattle. Do you plan on restoring that support and/or the District Council roles in distributing information to community councils, making recommendations for the city budget, and making recommendations for grants for neighborhood projects or will you keep his current policy in place?

http://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/editorials/city-council-should-challenge-mayor-murray-on-neighborhood-councils/

Nikkita Oliver: I want to say first that community input is incredibly invaluable. Without community input, bureaucracy just functions from top down. And so I deeply value hearing community voices, but also having community effectively impact what policy looks like not just in the making of policy but in the actual implementation of it. The neighborhood councils, while a good idea in some ways were inherently flawed because they did not necessarily reach across constituencies. Some of what we saw with the Councils were people have the time or the resources to invest in the District Councils. But the questions I think got asked about the Councils are who are the voices who are not there and why are they not participating. And so, while I do intend to have some sort of structure that creates very necessary and important space for neighborhoods and communities to directly to impact both policy development and implementation, I’m not sure going back to that model is going to be the most effective for the sort of input that our city most needs. I have been talking with some of the directors of different community centers and teen centers. We have a lot of very natural networks already built into our city that could be used as a way for communities to speak directly to the issues that most impact them and speak directly to policies and implementation. I think what’s necessary is pouring resources – the right resources – into those spaces and ensuring those become spaces where we’ve purposely and intentionally accessed community for that information. So how can we learn from what happened from the neighborhood model in terms of what populations are accessing those models and then how can we evolve it and use preexisting networks to build ones that actually gather across constituencies to build better policy and implementation. So, on the one hand, I do think the decision to reconsider what those Councils decisions look like was important on an equity level, I think not coming up with a plan that actually deals with the equity issue is problematic, so what I was trying to do with my office – there are so many community organizers in our city, we are such a lucky city, we have community organizers at every level from grass roots organizers to more nonprofit organizers to community center organizers. We have a lot of organizers. I think we need to figure out how we leverage relationships, which is something I have the skills to do, I am a grassroots organizer and I’ve worked with nonprofits, I’ve worked with community centers and so I have a ton of relationships to bring to the table to develop a more equitable way to ensure neighborhoods have direct connection to the Mayor’s office and I think that’s important. I think the other thing is,, as a Mayor, I will make myself accessible to communities. And that is about not simply doing town halls or “State of the City” addresses where I get to say and present my ideas, but it also means just going and sitting in spaces and listening to what communities are talking about and being available for the questions. And when I don’t know the answer to be willing to say I don’t know, but you know what I’m going to find the answers or I will work with you to find the answers. I think these are really important changes that we need around accountability, transparency, and ownership within our current government structure.

 

REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT and GENTRIFICATION:

  • During your campaign kickoff, you said, “We must stop giving developers a free ride…We have to counteract displacement…including our seniors — we have to take care of our seniors…Input must be included in a meaningful way…”  Tell us more about this.

Nikkita Oliver: When we look at how the grand bargain was developed, when we consider who was at the table, it was mostly people who have corporate interests. It didn’t necessarily include homeowners. It didn’t necessarily include renters. It didn’t necessarily include people who have been pushed out of our city those folks who are at the table getting to help make the decision. When I talked about meaningful input I mean going beyond hearing peoples’ voices and actually putting their ideas into effect, and allocating resources to those ideas. The grand bargain allows developers to come in and build without considering their impact upon our community, and without actually investing in our community.

We are seeing housing rates go up for a number of reasons, the market is shifting in a lot of ways, median income is increasing every year, lots of people are moving to our very beautiful city. As a result there is a huge demand for housing, and one problem with HALA and MHA is that it is dependent upon the private market meeting their needs while simultaneously not asking developers to actually really invest in the city they say they want to be in. So I think we need to look at a multifaceted response to the housing crisis which includes asking developers to invest more, because I firmly believe that they want to be here and they will often want to invest in our communities but it also means the City leveraging its resources to get involved in building housing and it means dealing with issues like speculative capital which are driving the market up.

So I think we need a multifaceted response, but also meeting with people who live in the zones that are single family zones. Folks who tend to get called things to NIMBY, which I think puts folks in a box that doesn’t actually knowledge their real concerns. Which are, I bought my home here, I invested here, and my hope was that I could live here and my children could live here for the next 30 to 40 years. And, if you are a senior who bought your home 30 years ago and you’re living on a fixed income and property taxes are going up each year, you are actually very likely to be pushed out of your home. And we have to consider what that means for someone who has spent their entire life working to have a place to live and a place to retire.

The flip side of that, we also have to deal with the fact that people are going to get paid to come into our city and with that means we need more density and we need more housing. Not just so that we can take the negative things that have happened in the market but also because we need to protect our environment to decrease the impact that we’re having on the environment. And so what I’m hoping we can do is come to a consensus around putting the density more equitably around our city but also doing it smartly nad, by smartly, I mean putting it in places that ecologically make sense, putting it in places that make sense transportation-wise, but also putting it in places that does not exacerbate the gentrification that’s already happened and [in places] that actually pushes back on the market to create place for people to move back to. So I think the developers who want to be in our city have a responsibility to our city and we need to willing to ask them to be accountable — responsibility as a part of our city.

When I talk about the progressive income tax, I’m actually talking about all of the Seattleites being willing to take on a piece of making our city the healthiest place possible. And I believe that, from our wealthiest Seattleites to our developers, that everybody wants to see that happen and we want to see our city be a healthy place for everybody – to be able to equitably live in a successful way. And that’s what a progressive Seattle looks like – a place where everyone invests at a level where they are able to invest in – because we are all going to be accountable and take ownership for creating a city that is accessible and is affordable.

I think that answers your question. That’s the vision. And I do think that it’s possible.

 

  • Do you support having real estate developers pay “Impact Fees” as allowed by State law to help to fund new schools, fire stations, and parks?

Nikkita Oliver: Absolutely. That infrastructure is essential to our city functioning well. It’s essential to the people who live in their buildings – to be able to live in a well –functioning city and I think that the developers are interested in having a city that functions well. And so impact fees are just a part of that. The linkage Fee – and the 20 to 25% around the linkage fee – or having that many affordable units in your building is also a part of that. These things are a part of ensuring that Seattle remains an affordable, successful place. But, like I said, we cannot depend on just the private market to do that. I think the City needs to get involved in leveraging its own resources in order to make sure we have enough affordable housing. And not just for people who are at the 60% AMI, but also people who are at the 30% AMI. 60% [AMI] is really our workforce housing and our teachers and we need to make sure our teachers can live here but we also want to be a icity that is affordable for our low income families and to ensure that those families can stay here. And that we have a well-rounded, equitable city.

(For more on Impact Fees, go here: http://alexpedersen.org/impact-fees-for-developers-can-boost-neighborhoods-and-schools/ )

 

RESPONSIVE GOVERNMENT: Some have criticized city government leaders for focusing too much on national issues instead of the basics of local government and/or to listening to interest groups instead of residents not involved in interest groups. What ideas do you have for making city government more responsive to its residents?

Nikkita Oliver: There are some national issues that have very real hyper-local impact. And I think those are the ones we should be focusing one. And I think the community that shows up at Council meetings. To me that’s organizing at the grassroots level and it does a great job brining those issues to the surface in our city and showing us how they connect tat the locatl level. And I think that, what responsive government looks like is hearing your residents when they are telling this issue at the national level is actually impacting me locally and I’m trying to show you where I need your as my local representative to be responsive to that locally. I think residents really can direct us and in seeing where at the national level we need to be responsive and really where the local connection is. I think it’s seeing where the local intersection is and being responsive there. And there are so many ways that we can do that. We have such a large refugee, immigrant, Muslim community that, under our current [presidential] Administration, is facing a lot of challenges and there are some incredible leaders in his community who can actually lead us about how locally we can do that in a way that doesn’t neglect our local government. When the national intersects with the local – that’s where it’s most important that we’re most responsive on those issues.

 

AFFORDABLE HOUSING: To produce new affordable housing, Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) relies on upzones that require real estate developers/investors to pay into a fund for affordable housing (or to build a percentage of the housing onsite). The Mayor calls this “Mandatory Housing Affordability” (MHA). Percentages that must be set-aside range from 2% downtown to 9% in the U District. The affordable housing does not need to be built in the same neighborhood where the fees are paid. Do you feel that the 2% set-aside for affordable housing downtown and the 9% set-aside in the U District were sufficient?

Nikkita Oliver:  No, I don’t think it’s sufficient. That’s an area where lots of students live and I don’t think it is enough set-aside to ensure that students can live by their school. When I think about 2% in [South Lake Union / downtown]. We have to look at, who can afford the 98% [of the housing units that is not affordable]? And who are we saying are the only 2% of folks who should be allowed to live there. That’s essentially what we’re saying. And we’re developing areas of the city for only certain income-brackets. When we look at 98% [of the housing units], only certain people are allowed to live here and only 2% of lower-income brackets can be here. I want to see more of our city to be more equitably accessible than that. South Lake Union is a beautiful area. Wouldn’t we want more of our families, more of our people to have access to that housing? And really what’s going to end up happening, the places where there are higher percentages of housing or where we are asking for higher percentages are places that are at the farthest reaches of the city. So, we’re saying that, if your lower income, the only place where we’re gonna make sure you have access to housing is farther out in the city. I think that’s problematic. I think we’re going to need to more equitably distribute the affordable housing so people who want to live closer into the city are able to do that because everyone deserves to have access to their city. And there are going to be people who want to live farther out or who want to live in neighborhoods that have a different type of cultural character and I want people to be able to choose to live in those areas in the city because that’s the area of the city that they like. But, right now, low income people don’t have a choice. If you don’t make enough money, you don’t get a choice on where you live in this city. And that is an economic equity issue that is racially and ethically unevenly distributed. When you look at whose median incomes are increasing at what rate, black and brown folks are at the lowest parts of those income increases. And so then it’s becoming racialized. So we’re also seeing the city become more and more segregated where the center of our city is whiter and wealthier and the farther reaches of our city are browner and lower income. And that’s a problem that’s starting to segregate the city.

 

HOMELESSNESS: While the reports from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (under President Obama) show a decrease in homelessness in many cities throughout the country, it has increased in Seattle and King County.

https://www.usich.gov/tools-for-action/ending-homelessness-our-progress-essential-strategies-and-the-work-ahead/

  • Why do you think homelessness is rising in Seattle while it is decreasing elsewhere?

Nikkita Oliver: I think it goes back to the economic, equity issue. And when we look at which communities are being impacted by that economic, equity issue and access issue, it is very particular communities – it is veterans, it’s black or brown communities, it’s people who are already working and who had families living paycheck to paycheck. There are a lot of families who are homeless in city – a lot of families who are constantly trying to find housing because of the constant rent increases. There are a lot of veterans. There are also a lot of mental health needs in our city. And so all of these things I think contribute to rising issues around homelessness. We have a major human services gap. And so when you have this kind of economic equity issue that we’re seeing here in Seattle, where the gap is not being met…and there’s not enough housing, period. The open housing rate [vacancy rate], the last I read, I think it was like 2% or 3%. There’s just not a lot of housing to choose from. And so people end up homeless.

And homelessness is defined in a lot of ways – it’s not just encampments. When we look at how many young people in our schools who are homeless, which has increased exponentially, it’s actually a better indicator of what homelessness looks like in your city. Because sometimes people are houseless. Multiple families living in one unit because that’s all they could find. So the rate of homelessness in Seattle is actually much higher than what we’re told. And I think it’s the economic gap and the lack of accessibility. I think we really need a holistic strategy. We need to think about jobs and opportunity. We need to think about educational opportunities. We need to think about housing. At one point in time, Boeing worked well with the city and our educational institutions to ensure there were pathways to jobs in Boeing, that there were pathways for low income folks, the people who might otherwise wouldn’t have accessibility to find ways to get into work. And when we look at hour our city is growing, many of the jobs that are coming here are being filled by people who don’t’ live in the city. So I think the city needs to figure out how we broker relationships with Amazon and Microsoft and Google to ensure that our young people who are here have solid trajectories into those jobs and that our families have trajectories into those jobs.

And another thing that is being over-looked, is the impact of – we live in a high access to information city – and a lot of formerly incarcerated people, people with records in our city are having a very hard time getting housing because there is so much information on people’s backgrounds now available to landlords. Because there’s such a high demand for housing, formerly incarcerated people who have done their time. And based on the way the justice system is supposed to be set up, because now they’ve paid back their debt to society. But a lot of them are being overlooked for housing. So I think that’s also contributing to why we’re seeing so many homeless and houseless people. It’s overall an equity issue that is very multifaceted — everything from access to housing and jobs and opportunity.

 

FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY:  Do you have any ideas for reducing city government expenses / finding savings?

Nikkita Oliver:  Yeah, absolutely. We have a huge budget. $5.6 billion. We spend a lot of money on courts and police. And, in the court area, when it comes to Seattle Municipal Court. I don’t know how much you know about “quality of life crime”; these are crimes that are things that people get criminalized for simply because they’re poor. Say you get a parking ticket that you’re not able to pay and, over time, that turns into a suspended license. And then you’re not able to pay the ticket, the suspended license and then maybe you get a ticket for [driving with] a suspended license – over time these turn into criminal issues that a person was not able to address in the first place because they did not have the money to pay the ticket in the first place. And we’re becoming a city where cash-poor folks have to drive. If you’re being pushed to the far reaches of the city and transportation is not moving in lock step with development, then you’re driving and it’s very easy to get a ticket in Seattle. So figuring out how we cannot prosecute “quality of life crimes” is huge. I heard a story about young homeless person who was charged with stealing because they had thrown their trash away in a private dumpster. I heard a story of someone charged with stealing electricity at the library for plugging their phone in. Regardless of whether or not those charges resulted in conviction, just the charging process, and calling that person into court, filing of the paperwork, adds up to a substantial amount of money over time. I think sweeps [of unauthorized homeless encampments] — the number of sweeps we do, how we do the sweeps; if provided more services and services that people in encampments wanted and provided trash, water, places to dispose of needles to those encampments instead of ding these constant sweeps and focused on having 24/7 storage, and getting transitional housing together. We could actually decrease the amount we spend on sweeps and transfer it over to human services. When it comes to “quality of life crimes” those funds could go into a lot of other places to ensure that those people don’t end up in those situations because if we keep out those cycles of poverty, we’re actually going to make our city healthier – those are two places that we could cut.

Also, I know that [Mayor] Murray had proposed hiring 200 more police. I could think of so many other things to do with that money that would actually decrease crime in our city and increase safety for everybody. I think it’s about looking at the places where we are spending money in ways that we don’t have to. Not only would it be more effective but, in the long run, it would be basically more responsible and amount to more efficient processes that benefit humans over systems.

 

EDUCATION: Do you support expanding the high-quality Seattle Preschool Program so that it is available to all 4 year olds (universal preschool) and, if so, how would you pay for it and how quickly would you make it universal?

Nikkita Oliver:  Absolutely. Preschool is incredibly valuable for the development of every young person in our city. It’s also important for families to be able to become economically stable. If they know that there is high-quality preschool available to them. I think, in providing that, I think we need to think about how we pay our child care workers. We do not ensure that our child care workers are paid at the rate that they deserve. And if we’re saying that preschool education is important, we need to make sure we take care of our workers so that they effectively take care of our children. But, in the long run, supporting high quality preschool for all people in our city, is going to make our city much healthier. 

 

EXPERIENCE: When Mayor Murray was running for Mayor, he was criticized for his lack of experience as an executive running a large organization. Can you speak to your own experience and management style?

Nikkita Oliver: I think what people fail to acknowledge about the role of an executive or anyone in the executive branch is that they’re only as good as their team. While they are the face of the decision and make the ultimate decision on a lot of things, our mayor is dependent upon having the most brilliant team possible because delegation is essential to running our city. Over 10,000 employees and a $5.6 billion budget, the mayor cannot know everything but [she] can know exactly, who they put in what places to do what jobs and can know that each of those people have the credentials and have the work experience to make that happen. You have to be able to trust your team. If you don’t trust your team what you’re going to end up doing is micromanaging your team. And people just simply don’t function well when they’re micromanaged. The system doesn’t function well when the trust isn’t there. You know, I’ve managed large teams before. I am very well versed in law, policy, and analysis. You don’t get through law school and a master degree at the same time, while working multiple jobs and not know how to manage some things. But I’ve also done a lot of work on systems transformation and focusing specifically on how you can systems more humanistic and more equitable. And that happens by ensuring you have a quality team around you that knows how to use evidence-based data that produces policies that, when implemented, actually amount to the sort of changes that you’re striving for. And that has to work in lock-step with having very strong responsive, dynamic communication with your constituencies – across constituencies, being able to acknowledge equity issues that might exist there.

So I think part of what I’ve been criticized for is that I’m not a career politician. I haven’t worked as a legislator or been on City Council. But what I have done is work closely with Councilmembers, worked closely with legislators, worked closed with elected on how do you develop ordinances and policies that work with the grassroots community. So what my skill actually is is knowing how to bridge the gap between community and government, but the thing that is essential for an executive to have is how do you take all of these different constituencies, how do you work with the legislative branch and the judicial branch in your city in a way that actually moves toward a consensus government that amounts to positive impact at the human level. If systems don’t work for humans, then those systems don’t work.

And part of what we’re seeing right now is the mismanagement is really a micromanagement issue. That there’s not enough people that work with the current mayor’s office who have the knowledge, the necessary knowledge to do their jobs – they also don’t have the trust. They haven’t been given – the leash is too short. So my style of leadership and my style of management is really about ensuring I have the right people doing the right job with the right resources – and then trusting them to do that job and having a process of accountability and very high expectations and goals and metrics and vision to make that happen. And when those goals, those metrics, and that vision is actually served or not met, then you have to move into a conversation of accountability, which we are lacking in our current government structure. So that would be, that is my management style.

CONCLUSION: Is there anything else you’d like to add, specifically for the residents of Northeast Seattle?

Nikkita Oliver: The only other thing I’d want to say to the people of Northeast Seattle: I want the communities there to know that I’ve heard quite a few people tell me how, especially the upper regions of our city feel at times they get ignored. And particularly around things like certain types of infrastructure — sidewalks, streets — human services and I think that is a place where our city absolutely has to grow because urban sprawl is happening and we need to be responsive to the needs of communities. And I have heard many residents in Northeast Seattle say that they feel overlooked. And so I would love to do a listening post there. We’ve done community listening posts in other places but I would love to sit with any neighborhood group and literally just listen – not there with an agenda to present our platform. But there to listen and hear and allow communities to develop our platform. We have a goal of really being organic. Because now we’re in good place to be organic. We don’t have to make the bottom-line decision yet. We’re actually in an incredible position to have these dynamic conversations that really develop the vision and community with people and we want to do that including with our neighbors and our communities in Northeast Seattle.

4 to Explore: Thank you so much for taking this time to have this interview.

# # #

Get our free "4 to Explore" newsletter delivered to your inbox every month. Click Here to Subscribe