Yarce gets down to business

Entrepreneurial nonprofit director discusses bid for District 3

Yarce gets down to business

Yarce gets down to business

Beto Yarce is looking to put his business acumen to work for Seattle’s District 3, and believes he can bring a more unifying voice to the city council than the two-time incumbent.

The one-time undocumented immigrant, business owner, and now director of a nonprofit that helps low-income entrepreneurs incubate their businesses and provides training and loan assistance, Yarce announced his campaign during a press conference in late November.

Yarce recently sat down with MPT to talk about the issues and how his professional and lived experience make him an ideal candidate to replace Kshama Sawant on the Seattle City Council.

The District 3 candidate first came to Seattle in February 2003, and worked as a busser at Galeria’s in Capitol Hill. After six months, he returned to Mexico to complete his thesis; he has a degree in international business and marketing.

Yarce returned to Galeria's that November, where he worked his way up the ranks for three years. In that time he'd also started his Cintli jewelry business, building up a clientele at the Fremont Sunday Market. He moved his business to Pike Place Market in June 2004, in a space on the third floor that Yarce said no one wanted.

“No one wants that space because no one goes there,” he said.

Yarce said he made Cintli a destination store, so when the Great Recession hit in 2008, half of the floor went out of business while he expanded in another space at the market. He ended up closing the business in 2017, he said, to focus on his work at the Washington Community Alliance for Self Help (CASH), where he had started working as the Latino business specialist a decade ago.

In 2014, Yarce became executive director of the nonprofit, which he helped rebrand as Ventures. He said he inherited a $400,000 deficit, which resulted in nine layoffs and eight people having to maintain the same programming. Through strategic planning and diversifying funding, Yarce said, the nonprofit now has 32 employees (21 full time) and about five months of reserves.

“I didn't do it by myself,” he said. “I have an amazing team and a board that supported me through the process.”

The District 3 candidate is approaching his campaign in many of the same ways he approaches his work at Ventures, with a focus on equity and access to economic opportunity as a way to strengthen Seattle, and particularly areas where people, especially people of color, are struggling with the effects of gentrification. He said he want to be seen as both pro-worker and pro-business.

“Workers are very important to me,” Yarce said. “Why they are important to me is because I was one of them. I have faced those challenges.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan appointed Yarce to her new Small Business Advisory Council in February, and recently signed an executive order to explore a number of recommendations from the SBAC meant to eliminate some of the “red tape” that makes it hard to navigate the business process, Yarce said. One of those recommendations is to eliminate the business and occupation tax for low-income business owners for three years.

Sawant continues to push to bring back an employee-hours (head) tax.  The city council unanimously approved and then repealed a head tax prior to implementation in the spring. The councilmember had framed it as a tax on Amazon, though it would have also applied to nearly 350 big businesses. Amazon, Kroger, (Fred Meyer/QFC), Albertsons, Howard S. Wright Companies, Starbucks and Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc. each pledged $25,000 to the No Tax on Jobs opposition group.

Yarce said during his campaign launch that he supported a head tax that would have generated $200 million in new revenue for funding the creation of more affordable housing and homeless services, but he really favors working with big businesses to find solutions that work for everyone. When raising funds for a nonprofit, he said, there needs to be a feasible business plan that outlines exactly where the funding will go that can be presented to the people that need to be engaged in making it happen.

“In terms of the head tax, we didn't see any of that,” Yarce said. “In terms of the message, it was, 'We're taxing you because you are bad, because you make too much money.'”

Sawant has yet to announce her campaign to serve a third term on the city council, but is still considered to be running. District 4 Councilmember Rob Johnson won’t campaign for a second term, and District 7 Councilmember Sally Bagshaw also won’t run for re-election.

Yarce said during his campaign announcement that Sawant has been a divisive voice on the city council, and that he’s focused on unity, rather than “pointing fingers and making people feel guilty about what they do.”

Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine recently announced a consolidation of the city and county's services to address homelessness, which Yarce applauds as a good direction to take.

“This is not only Seattle's problem to support affordable housing or homelessness,” he said.

Yarce said he believes the city needs to take a pause on its efforts to address housing and homelessness in order to analyze the crisis and why plans in place over the past several years haven't resulted in more progress.

“I think we need to stop for a moment and solve something that is not working,” Yarce said.

As the city approaches the Seattle Squeeze, the District 3 candidate laments how Seattle has fallen behind cities like Portland in improving transportation mobility by looking beyond bikes as alternatives to motor vehicles. While the mayor has put an indefinite pause on the Center City Connector, Yarce said not finishing the streetcar line means wasting funds already invested in the project and being left with the same congestion issues it's meant to alleviate.

Yarce also supports allowing private companies like Lime and Lyft to provide scooters on top of the currently allowed bike shares, having tried them out during a visit to Portland.

“The reports say it's easier to ride a scooter than a bike,” he said, which would improve access to light rail and other transit hubs. It also adds equity for people who are not physically able to use bicycles. “I'm for it. I've read data that says if you ride a scooter, you get less wet than on a bike.”

As a formerly undocumented immigrant who now has citizenship, Yarce said he's glad Seattle is a sanctuary city, adding his journey was easier than many due to class privilege and knowing how to navigate the system. He said he's not sure whether the city is doing enough to support its immigrants and refugees, but it should be doing whatever possible to help them become residents and eventually citizens, though he is cautious about potentially losing federal funding.

Yarce also supports increasing mental health and substance abuse treatment, and public safety. 

The District 3 candidate said his residency was unfairly scrutinized when he announced his campaign on Nov. 29. Yarce moved to Mill Creek four years ago, to be closer to where his partner, Phil Smith, works. They had found temporary housing in Capitol Hill by Oct. 30, he said, adding the couple had been planning to move back to Seattle even before Yarce decided to run for city council.

As far as Yarce is concerned, he never left Seattle. He works in the city, patronizes restaurants, takes yoga classes here and serves on various boards and committees. On top of Durkan's Small Business Advisory Council, Yarce serves on the City of Seattle's 2020 Census Task Force and the Greater Seattle Business Association's board of directors. He is also a member of the Mexicans Abroad for the Secretary of Foreign Affairs.

Keep up with Yarce's campaign at betoforseattle.org.