Kshama Sawant is seeking a third term on the Seattle City Council, a second since the city was divided into counicl districts.
Kshama Sawant is seeking a third term on the Seattle City Council, a second since the city was divided into counicl districts.

Seattle City Council District 3 candidates spent two hours sharing their positions on some of the most pressing issues for Central Area residents on Thursday, June 13, with the occasional dig at the incumbent and an absent school board member.

The forum was hosted by the Central Area Neighborhood District Council and moderated by Lawrence Pitre, president of the Central Area Chamber of Commerce.

Candidates first answered questions drafted by a committee formed by CANDC, followed by a lightning round, and then queries from the audience.

Five of the six District 3 candidates participated. Zachary DeWolf, who was elected to a four-year term on the Seattle School Board in 2017, did not attend. Evidence the district council felt slighted came in the form of a question to the rest of the candidates: “Should someone in an elected position serve their full term?”

Incumbent Kshama Sawant, who is seeking a third term on the Seattle City Council — a second since the city was divided into seven districts — did not clap back at criticism from several opponents during the forum, accusing her of not being present and accountable to Central Area constituents.

“We see a council that’s focused on activism, and not delivering what we need,” said candidate Logan Bowers, a pot entrepreneur and former Amazon software development manager.

Getting Seattle moving

Frustrated by the Seattle Department of Transportation’s inability to deliver projects promised in the $930 million Move Seattle levy, the district council wanted to know how candidates would hold the city more accountable when the next transportation levy came up.

Mount Baker business owner Pat Murakami said the levy would need more public input, and the city should do a better job outlining expenditures on its website. She favors more connector buses, protections for pedestrians, infrastructure fixes to help those with limited mobility, and bike boulevards, but not on arterial streets, she said, due to safety concerns.

Public defender Ami Nguyen said voters approved nearly $1 billion to transform the city and achieve Vision Zero, ending transportation-related injuries and deaths. The city council and mayor should have to answer for why those funds were not used properly, she said.

Seattle PrideFest and Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce executive director Egan Orion said equitable investment should be the priority for the next levy, including safer sidewalks, a connected bike network and increased King County Metro RapidRide lines.

Sawant stayed on message during the forum, which was that Seattle won’t be able to provide needed services and ease the burden on low-income and middle-class residents until big developers and corporations are made to pay.

The transportation levy couldn’t keep up with the stresses developers and corporations are placing on the city’s infrastructure, she said, and “Amazon’s Mayor [Jenny] Durkan” and most of the council won’t support taxing them.

Head tax helper

One of Sawant’s own supporters, who was seeking signatures for the councilmember’s rent control petition before and after the forum, was given the opportunity to ask candidates if they would have repealed the “Amazon Tax,” referring to the employee-hours (head) tax.

The council last year unanimously approved the tax, which would have affected the top 3 percent of Seattle businesses, and generated revenue for affordable housing and homeless services, and then repealed the legislation less than a month later. Sawant and Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda cast the only dissenting votes.

All District 3 candidates but Sawant agreed that the head tax was not well thought out or executed.

“It showed gross ignorance of business,” Murakami said. “I would never tax on gross revenue.”

Murakami thinks net operating revenue would have been a better way to go, but said what is needed is a graduated state income tax, which the city should lobby for. That would be a real tax on the rich, she said.

Nguyen said the city should have gone to the voters to decide, while Bowers said the revenue generated by the head tax wouldn’t have been enough to meet Seattle’s need for more housing, homeless services and increased public safety.

Sugar: money, money

Pitre asked candidates if they supported repealing the city’s sweetened beverage tax, saying its wasn’t working.

The tax — 1.75 cents per ounce — was expected to generate $15 million in its first year, supporting the Fresh Bucks program, summer learning and education efforts, the 13th Year Promise Scholarship and other programs to close the food security gap.

Seattle collected $22.3 million in tax revenue in 2018, and $5.7 million was funneled into the general fund. The city does not expect revenues to decline; meaning consumption isn’t projected to go down.

Nguyen supports the sweetened beverage tax’s repeal, and said half of the revenue is going to administering how the rest is spent, while the tax itself disproportionately affects African and Asian Americans.

Orion said there should be a tax on sugary drinks and their negative health impacts, just like there are taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana. He objects to revenue overages being used to balance the city’s budget.

Bowers agreed with Orion, but said the revenue should go toward addressing the city’s homelessness crisis.

“It’s unconscionable that we would do anything else with that money,” he said.

Sawant said she was the only councilmember to oppose the tax when the city council voted on the legislation in 2017. She supports reducing consumption of sugary drinks, she said, but the tax is regressive, affecting the working poor and black- and immigrant-owned businesses the most.

Aging in place

Candidates were asked, with increasing housing costs in Seattle, how they would help senior residents on fixed incomes age in place.

Orion called for expanding renter protections and limiting rental increases to no more than 10 percent annually. He also wants to see fees developers pay under the Mandatory Housing Affordability program set aside for senior housing. Orion criticized Sawant’s push for rent control in Seattle, pointing out only the state Legislature can decide to allow it, and then suggested the District 3 incumbent seek office there.

Sawant bemoaned the head tax repeal, and said there needs to be mass movements to get any progressive revenue legislation passed. She supports legislation coming up for a vote next month that will ease restrictions for people wanting to build accessory dwelling units, which she said would create another option for seniors. Developer impact fees are being considered now, and Sawant said she supports them.

Murakami, who was one of three candidates that confirmed they support repealing the MHA program, said developers should not have the option of paying a fee in lieu of developing affordable housing units in their buildings. She also supports taxing foreign investors, and said corporations outside the state are buying the city out from under its residents. She supports freezing property taxes for seniors and on homes that have been in the same family for generations, she said.

Bowers said he would work with state representatives to secure more property tax controls in Seattle, adding young people also can’t afford to live in the city. He said there needs to be equitable distribution of growth across the city, later accusing Sawant of challenging density in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods. The incumbent is spearheading an effort to save the Showbox music venue, which is not in her district, and stopping plans to replace it with a residential luxury tower.

Nguyen said there should have been a property tax exemption for seniors included in Seattle’s housing levy. She’s glad a new law in Washington will take effect next year that basis qualifications for property tax exemptions and deferrals for veterans, individuals with disabilities and seniors on the median income of their county of residence.

“I think that’s going to help,” Nguyen said, “but it’s still not going to help everyone.”

Violence in the Central District

Gun violence spikes in the Central Area in the summer, and there have already been several shootings this year. Nineteen-year-old Royale Lexing was killed in one shooting on May 10, which spurred Central District neighbors, including Orion, to call for action, he said. Officials from the mayor’s office, SPD and SDOT met with community members. That kind of community engagement is a good place to start, Orion said.

Sawant addressed Lexing’s death during the June 13 forum.

“I stand with the black community in mourning this loss,” she said.

Orion later criticized Sawant for not being among the city officials who responded to neighbors’ invitation to hear their concerns following Lexing’s death.

“She seems to always send someone else, instead of showing up herself,” he said.

Sawant said reducing inequality is the best way to curb violence and crime, which means affordable housing, living-wage jobs and apprenticeships.

Bowers said the police department needs to earn the community’s trust, which includes more accountability and higher standards for officers, as well as more community outreach.

Murakami, who has spent a decade on the South Seattle Crime Prevention Council, blamed the uptick in violence on gangs, and said more treatment is needed to end drug consumption, and that dealers need to be arrested. The city also needs to boost its youth employment program, she said.

“If they’re working, they’re not going to be engaging with gangs,” she said.

Murakami called for more police and crime prevention efforts, but not for increasing arrests. When increasing the police force, she said officers should reflect the people they serve.

“They need to be people of the community,” Murakami said.

Nguyen also supports expanding the employment program, as well as other youth programs, she said.

Fixing the mess

The district council asked how the candidates would stop the problem of trash and human waste in public places.

Orion said the best solution is to not have homeless encampments, and that means increasing the number of 24/7 low-barrier shelters operating in Seattle, as well as supportive housing for the chronically homeless. The city also needs to provide treatment on demand for those in addiction and suffering mental health crises.

Sweeping encampments is ineffective, Sawant said, and the city needs to provide more restrooms and cleaning in those areas.

Bowers also called for more low-barrier shelter access and regional partnerships to address the homelessness crisis.

Murakami said there’s a distinction between the economically homeless and those with drug and mental health issues, which she said are the ones in tents and RVs. The city needs to work with King County, she said, which is responsible for operating those needed treatment facilities.

Nguyen said people experiencing homelessness deserve dignity, and criticized the city for reducing toilet and shower access in its last budget.

“That is basic human needs,” she said. “All of us use the restroom.

Bikeshare blockage

All candidates agreed people parking rented bikes haphazardly in city rights of way, impeding people with limited mobility, is a problem.

Nguyen said she thinks bikeshare companies should be fined if they don’t do a better job of controlling where their bikes are parked, while Orion suggested fining the users. Sawant said the issue is less of a problem than when bikeshares first started in Seattle, but agreed that companies should not only be held accountable, but also provide better customer education.

Murakami has a problem with the “corporatization of transit,” she said, and wants the city to own its own bikes and set up racks for them. The City of Seattle ended its Pronto Cycle Share program in 2017 due to a lack of funding and low ridership.