Urbanist questionnaire

The following was first published on Medium.com on June 13, 2017

My responses to The Urbanist questionnaire

Last week, I responded to a questionnaire from The Urbanist, providing thoughts on important issues facing Seattle. I really appreciate what The Urbanist does, which is why I sought and would welcome their endorsement. They are committed to a better Seattle and provoke great conversations on some of the most important challenges we have as a city. If elected, I look forward to learning from these great conversations.

Unfortunately, I was “disqualified” in their endorsement process for providing fuller responses to questions for which they wanted a “yes” or “no” answer. My response won’t be posted on their site, and they canceled my endorsement interview.

To be fair, they aren’t the only ones asking for yes or no answers. As candidates for Mayor, in forums and on questionnaires, we often get asked to respond with a green or red paddle — or a Y or N — to some pretty complex issues. I’m all for brevity, but sometimes voters really lose out by not getting to hear more. (And I’m apparently not allowed to pull out my “it’s complicated” paddle at forums.)

The issues facing the city are tough. If they were easy, they would be solved by now.

I’m not sure how to answer “yes” or “no” to a multiple-choice question or those that require more context and data. As Mayor, I’m not going to just answer yes or no without asking more questions, getting more facts, or understanding the circumstances. (For example, below, one of the questions asks whether I support raising B&O, income or capital gains taxes for affordable housing. What am I saying yes or no to, exactly? Which tax, how much, to what end? See what I mean?)

It is too bad that The Urbanist has decided not to share my responses to their questions. But all is not lost! I am posting my answers here because I believe the voters deserve to hear a thoughtful response, not just a yes or a no. I know that reading through a bunch of questionnaires in such a crowded field is a bear. Still, I just am not one of those people who, if elected, will ever utter “who knew [fill in the blank] was so complicated.”

So, I wanted you, dear readers of The Urbanist and beyond, to see my full responses. Happy reading.


Do you consider yourself an urbanist?

Yes, I believe cities are vibrant, dynamic spaces. These are the things I think make a great urban environment:

  • vibrant and unique neighborhoods;
  • a wide variety of housing options, with equal access;
  • transportation that encourages, pedestrian, bike, ride-share and transit usage;
  • varied, plentiful and distributed locations for green space and parks;
  • diverse and affordable cultural activities;
  • entrepreneurial local business hubs;
  • concentrated housing options in urban villages;
  • policies that encourage, increase and revel in broad diversity and foster respect for all people of diverse heritage and backgrounds, beliefs, faiths and incomes. This results in dynamic and vital cities.

If I am elected as mayor, my approach to governing will reflect these values.

What is your strategy for making housing more affordable both for very low-income and middle-class workers?

First and foremost, we need to create more housing options in this city. I strongly believe that the need for more affordable housing must mean both low income and middle class options. This problem will only grow as our population grows. I will look to leverage City and regional tools and partnerships to help meet this need. I strongly support the implementation of the HALA recommendations. I will focus on the “highest impact recommendations” first as identified by HALA.

The cornerstone of the HALA recommendations is the Mandatory Housing Affordability requirement (MHA). In order to achieve 20,000 new units of low-income housing over the next 10 years — the goal of HALA — the City needs the participation of the private housing development community. The validity of this program was confirmed by news that projects that have vested prior to the MHA program are requesting to opt into the MHA requirement. We must continue to aggressively pursue implementation of the MHA program.

We need to make sure that affordable housing continues to be close to transit hubs and services. I support the HALA recommendations to concentrate affordable housing in downtown and urban villages — especially added affordable housing in areas within walking distance to transit. I also want to explore the promise in ST 3 of planning for density around stations and transit corridors.

What strategies would you adopt to address the homeless crisis?

There is no question that homelessness is one of the most significant issues facing our city today, and if elected mayor, I will make it a priority. We have to be compassionate and respectful of people experiencing homelessness. We also need to get people in housing and not living in tents, under bridges and in their cars. There are nearly 3,900 unsheltered people experiencing homelessness in our city. That’s heartbreaking and unacceptable.

Above all else, homeless families and individuals need a safe and stable home. Removing barriers to permanent housing requires not just shelter alternatives, but also requires tackling a variety of challenges, including employment, stable schooling for kids, and addiction and mental health services. I am committed to smartly directing city resources while working with service providers, caring philanthropists, communities, individuals and businesses dedicated to finding solutions.

I recently laid out some immediate steps we should take to get people off the streets and into safe housing: https://medium.com/@JennyforSeattle/three-immediate-steps-to-address-homelessness-in-seattle-2b7c1889ab08.

I don’t think there is one “magic bullet” or one-size-fits all solution to this complex, multifaceted problem and we should continue to seek new, innovative solutions and to do so in better collaboration and coordination with the County and other partners.

What is your strategy for equitable development in Seattle?

As a city experiencing unprecedented economic and population growth — growth that is creating significant affordability challenges — we must collectively make a commitment to invest in communities of different races, ethnic backgrounds, and incomes. It is part of what what adds to the richness of our social fabric. Growth is inevitable; let’s rise to the opportunities (and the challenges) it presents. Public and private partnerships in neighborhoods are a way to create vibrant, healthy communities where the private market alone has not done enough.

To ensure equitable development, I will work to foster participation among low-income communities and communities of color as true stakeholders in the decisions that impact their communities. I would use the resources available to the city through the Community Cornerstones Program and partner with the Office of Economic Development, Department of Planning and Development, and the Department of Neighborhoods to achieve our goals of equitable development.

Any plan for equitable development must address long term impacts related to housing, transportation, jobs and infrastructure, and must incorporate racial and economic equity with all of these areas. These factors will play heavily into Seattle’s future growth and livability.

We also need to create significantly more housing, particularly housing affordable for lower income and middle class residents. This is where building on the base established by the HALA conversation will be so important.

What tax policies would you advocate for in Seattle?

First, we need to keep our promises to Seattle residents, businesses and voters — to ensure the taxes they have paid are used wisely and efficiently. Before supporting or seeking any tax increases, I would take steps to ensure accountability for the collection and expenditure of current revenues.

I’m also concerned about property taxes in the City. With rising property values, many can’t afford their rising property tax bills. I will work with Legislators to increase the exemption for seniors in the City and see if there are ways to provide property tax relief to lower income individuals and to landlords that provide affordable housing.

I would also like to explore how we can reform our regressive tax system in favor of more progressive options. I supported the state-wide income tax when it was on the ballot, and would continue to encourage state lawmakers to adopt a more progressive tax system. We need to shift the tax burden so that it does not fall disproportionately on those that earn less, and we need to reform other taxes, such as the B&O tax, which can negatively impact the ability of startup and small businesses to succeed.

What are your preferred policies to improve access to public transportation?

I strongly support getting Sound Transit light rail and express bus services built and operational as quickly and responsibly as possible. While the passage of ST3 last year was a huge step, we need to work together on the promised light rail expansions. I look forward to working closely with city and regional elected officials, such as Councilmember Rob Johnson, who have been championing growth and transit expansions. We must collaborate with Sound Transit staff to identify opportunities to expedite the planning, design, and delivery of these essential mass transit services while ensuring extensive and integral community involvement in the process.

We must ensure our investments in bus service at both the city and county levels are contributing to a more equitable city. This is particularly important for working families and people of color who are hit disproportionately by the increasing cost of transportation.

We need to consider a 24/7 transit system to make using transit easier and more convenient at all hours of the night. I also plan to explore making bus fare free for all young people under 18 years old, and extending our ORCA LIFT program to all teachers.

How will you balance community input with effective and equitable policy making?

You cannot have either effective or equitable policies without broad, meaningful and sustained community input. How we make decisions is very important, and often can be the difference between a policy that is accepted and becomes part of the fabric of our city — or one that is rejected. At the same time, process is not an end in itself. I want to see the City better use social media and other technology tools to ensure that we incorporate a broader and more diverse array of voices into our civic conversation about urban issues and policy decisions.A mayor must be willing to bring people together and make decisions. That is the kind of mayor I would be.

Seattle Vision Zero plan aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. What policies do you support to work towards this goal?

Safety should be a top priority for how we think about and operate our transportation system. We need to design systems, roadways and enforcement mechanisms that encourage and support all forms of transportation and protect the lives and livelihoods of all users of our transportation system. As mayor, I will rely heavily on data and evidence-based practices in this area.

I will work with key partners such as the Cascade Bicycle Club to explore how to best implement the Bicycle Master Plan and the Center City Bicycle Network in a way that is cost-effective and good for bikers.

Move Seattle is providing critical funding for improvements to all modes of transportation. When we focus on safer access to schools, business districts, transit and parks we address the most critical gaps in the pedestrians’ environment. I will focus resources on the basics: much-needed upgrades to sidewalks in underserved communities, providing sidewalks that have been promised for decades, increasing handicap ramp improvements, crosswalk striping and lighting, and making busy streets and intersections safer for everyone. These safety investments can help make Seattle neighborhoods safer and more walkable for all residents.

[Note: these are the Yes/No questions.]

Do you support the HALA Grand Bargain?

Yes. I will resist any efforts to “start over” or to undermine “the bargain.” I am willing to listen to and work for needed improvement, including up-zones to allow for more density.

Do you support allowing missing middle housing like rowhouses in existing single-family zones so all neighborhoods contribute to growth?

The Missing Middle is a crucial piece of developing the full range of affordable housing needed. Many current zoning regulations focus exclusively on the ends of the spectrum that range from single family houses all the way up to larger, high-rise apartment buildings. This view often ignores the variety of other housing options such as duplexes, townhouses, or courtyard communities that can help grow a vibrant and robust community.

I am interested in exploring ways to we can add these additional types of housing options in this city. I would explore the impacts of these proposals, based on feedback from owners of current backyard cottages in the Seattle area as well as examples from peer cities with similar programs, such as Portland, Oregon; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Los Angeles, California. This also requires significant stakeholder input. When planning the future of neighborhoods, those most impacted in our communities should have the ability to ask questions, voice their concerns, and share their wisdom.

Overall, whether it is this proposal or others, we should always be looking at innovative ways to expand our housing options in the city.

Do you support increasing progressive taxes (B&O, income, or capital gains) to pay for affordable housing?

Seattle taxpayers have repeatedly gone to the ballot to provide funding for housing. These taxes have allowed us to pursue and support things critical to a thriving urban environment: better transit, improved parks and libraries, and family and education priorities. However, before I ask voters to raise additional funds I want to ensure we are collecting and leveraging the funds and resources already at our disposal. I will be relentlessly focused spending taxpayer dollars efficiently and prudently. If elected mayor, I will base funding decisions based on data and evidence-based practices, evaluating where the opportunities for the most impact are and investing our resources accordingly.

Do you support the construction of the Children and Family Justice Center (youth jail)?

I do not think the focus should be on whether we need a new facility — but on the purpose of any facility and the services it provides. We must move away from a model of arrest and detention of juveniles. The current juvenile court and detention center is a substandard facility that is spatially focused too much on detention and punishment. It is a horrible place (I represented juveniles there years ago and it was appalling then). We need a facility that reflects our philosophy of holistic family services and juvenile justice.

While the City and the County have articulated a goal of reaching zero youth detentions, we know that right now it is unfortunately a reality that some youth detentions, including violent assaults and homicides, must still occur. In 1996, the average detention population at the detention center was 190. In 2016, it was approximately 51 (a 73% reduction). To continue to reduce youth detentions, we need to work with the County to support dedicated child welfare and restorative justice programs. Such programs need to define the space and reflect our values.

Do you support the construction of the North Precinct Station?

Yes, but not as it is currently designed and budgeted. The existing police precinct for North Seattle does not meet the needs of the police department; more importantly, it does not meet the needs of the community it is supposed to serve. It is grossly overcrowded by 65%. As a result, detectives and other staff are housed in nearby commercial office space, which adds to costs and hinders effective communication, efficiency, and cohesiveness. This in turn impacts their effectiveness within our communities, and is an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars.

As a criminal defense attorney and US Attorney I believe we need adequate, safe and efficient space at our precincts, so that our law enforcement officers have the resources they need to keep our neighborhoods safe. Over 40% of Seattle’s population is north of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. Those who live, visit, or work there deserve the highest level of service from an efficient and effective police department.

However, I believe we must consider all community input and concerns when moving forward with these decisions. With a $160 million price tag, people are right to raise questions. We have recently made upgrades in other police precincts, but for about one-fifth the proposed cost of this project. I believe there are changes we can make to the project that will significantly reduce the cost of the facility for taxpayers while preserving its core functions. This is the type of oversight and analysis I would be doing on all major projects as mayor.

Do you support the inclusion of the Community Package associated with the Washington State Convention Center Addition’s street and alley vacation public benefits?

There will be a community benefits package that will be negotiated as a part of this expansion, and I am absolutely supportive of that.

CBAs are good public policy, and are an effective way to deal with associated impacts of projects. It is my understanding that there will be a robust CBA process as part of the expansion of the Convention Center, to mitigate the impacts of the associated street vacations. I support that.

Will you make municipal broadband a reality in Seattle?

Broadband is the emerging as the next basic life service, as electricity, water and sewer once was. As mayor, I would tap experts in the area of broadband deployment and continue to find ways to partner with the private sector to ensure underserved neighborhoods, community centers, libraries and schools, have broadband facilities, the last mile connections and robust wireless services to serve all in City. And we must avoid the costly mistakes of past failed attempts. I am open to determining the best ways the City can use its resources (property, funds and franchise agreements) to leverage private investments and their rapidly changing technologies so we get the service without having to take on the financial burden or technological risks of the overall system.

Do you support establishing a municipal bank?

No. I don’t think establishing a municipal bank is a high priority for Seattle right now.

Will you work to ensure the state and its contractors, not the City of Seattle, is responsible for all cost overruns for the Highway 99 waterfront tunnel?

Yes.