1. Looking at the current City Council, on what issues would you say it has been particularly effective and, in your opinion, where has it been less effective? Why?
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Current City Councilmembers are the first legislative body in Seattle to represent individual Districts in almost 100 years. City Council has been effective in more of an activist role on topics ranging from immigration to environmental protections to homelessness.
Current City Council must listen and be more responsive to voter concerns. More effective systems are needed in all City Council offices which often have chronically full voice mailboxes and constituent email requests for basic needs and services (sidewalk repairs, safety issues) go unanswered for weeks.
Additionally, City Council has demonstrated less effective leadership in implementing solutions. Homelessness continues to be a major concern, as well as property crime and litter. Real people are reduced to causes and slogans, without meaningful help or lifelines in place. Local business owners feel left behind and unconsidered while residents wonder if their voices will ever be heard. This disconnect has led to four Council members, a numerical majority, choosing not to seek reelection.
The business tax is a perfect example, as City Council did not conduct outreach, listen or collaborate with businesses being impacted and had to walk it back.
The Council consists of nine members, each of whom have different approaches and priorities. While it’s fair to evaluate the Council as a body, it’s also important to recognize individual approaches.
Areas where the Council has been most effective include agreeing to direct resources to public safety; the Police Department budget adopted by a previous Council in 2016 was $300 million; the budget adopted for 2019 is $400 million. Seattle police officers are now the highest paid in the state, with a starting salary of $81,000, rising to $106,000 after 54 months (not counting overtime). Additionally, the Council agreed that restoration of the Community Service Officer (CSO) program is a priority. It will come online later this year. The Fire Department has also seen significant funding increases.
During my 2015 campaign I committed to restoring the above referenced CSO program but also to expand LEAD, the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program that diverts low-level offenders to rehabilitation, services, and treatment rather than jail. This program has had extraordinary success in changing people’s lives. A 2015 study by University of Washington researchers found LEAD participation decreased the odds of re-arrest post-referral by 58 percent compared to a similarly situated control group. In the 2018 budget, the Council expanded LEAD to the South and Southwest precincts.
As an Councilmember working to address the unique interests of her district, I worked with Alki residents to do a public safety survey, and the worked with the Council to implement their recommendations, changing City law to make vehicle noise laws easier for SPD to enforce. I also worked closely with the South Park Community to commission a South Park Public Safety study, and then worked with the Council to implement their recommendations, which included funding a public safety coordinator, alley lighting to deter illegal activity, additional opportunities for youth, including late-night activities, and pedestrian safety improvements.
As it relates to addressing our affordable housing challenges, the Council has implemented numerous recommendations of the HALA Committee, as noted below in the answer to question 4. Most recently, the Council adopted the Mandatory Housing Affordability legislation. On an individual level, I worked closely with District 1 groups, also described below in the answer to question 4, which – after the Hearing Examiner’s ruling on the SCALE lawsuit, resulted in significantly less opposition than from other areas in Seattle. There was minimal opposition from District 1, despite the fact that several D1 community groups had previously participated in the SCALE lawsuit. The Council also adopted a measure I sponsored to boot funding of affordable housing in the 2018 Notice of Funding Availability, through a bond sale. This increased the funding available from the affordable housing ballot measure passed by voters from $60 million to neatly $100 million in 2018.
As it relates to transportation, the five Councilmembers on the Elected Leadership Group have together worked productively with Sound Transit on implementation of Sound Transit 3. I have worked with Councilmembers to revising the criteria for the voter-approved 2014 ballot measure in order to allow for additional service for high-volume routes to Downtown, such as the 120. Previously routes like the 120 had limited eligibility. I’ve also focused on ensuring bus service to Urban Villages is in alignment with City plans, especially in Admiral, where previously service failed to meet the city standards for bus service.
To answer the question of how the Council could improve its effectiveness, it’s clear that some residents and businesses feel that they aren’t being heard. I spend significant staff resources, as well as my own time working on constituent issues. I believe that my commitment to this work is key in affirming, and in some cases restoring, the public’s faith in their government. This is one of my core principles.
That is why constituent services are such a high priority for me. My staff and I spend time every day helping constituents improve our community in the ways that impact their day to day lives, whether that’s by connecting them to a city department with my office’s constituent case management services or giving residents information about legislation that the Council is considering. Here is a link to some examples of that work.
Further, the Council can, and must, do a much better job on fiscal accountability and oversight. I’m working to reform how the Council and departments oversee large capital projects. This work has involved getting several departments to adopt common project terminology and approval phases, and quarterly updates to the Council to identify problems early. I have also successfully led the Council to pass legislation creating a new oversight policy, including creation of an annual “watch list” and requiring “stage gating” or capital projects, requiring Council approval between stages of project funding.
Another area where my oversight was strong was with the Pronto bicycle program. I argued against the City purchasing Pronto, and advocated instead for a private-sector approach along the lines of Car2Go; I also noted that technology was shifting toward free-floating bikes that didn’t required docking stations, and electric bikes. While that vote was 7-2 in support, with Councilmember Burgess joining me in opposition to subsidizing the program, when Councilmember Burgess and I later moved to remove funding from the budget, the Council supported ending the program. The City subsequently canceled consideration of purchasing a newer system, which allowed the private sector to provide solutions that have resulted in significantly higher ridership.
I cannot identify any area where I would describe the current City Council as particularly effective.
The City Council has been less effective in three main areas: homelessness, public safety, and fiscal responsibility.
Homelessness in Seattle has reached the point of crisis, and the City Council has relied on ineffective and inefficient strategies to deal with it. Sanctioned encampments, tiny villages and RV lots are not effective means of elevating people into permanent housing.
Crime has gotten out of control in Seattle, especially downtown. This is due to the City Council’s lax attitude to so-called “low-level crimes” coupled with its blatantly unsupportive posture toward the police. SPD is grossly understaffed, and officers continue to leave faster than their replacements can be hired.
The City generates impressive revenue, and yet the City Council has refused to budget it responsibly or transparently. Instead, Council has repeatedly insisted on raising taxes. Families and businesses are feeling overwhelmed by the cost of living in Seattle, and many are leaving.