The C Is for Crank Interviews: Lorena González

Now that the primary-election field of 47 has been narrowed to a comparatively manageable 18, I’m sitting down with all the council candidates to talk about what they’ve learned so far, their campaign plans going forward, and their views on the issues that will shape the election, including density, “neighborhood character,” crime, parking, police accountability, and diversity. I’ll be rolling out all 17 of my interviews (Kshama Sawant was the only candidate who declined to sit down with me) over the next few weeks.

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Today’s interview is with Lorena González, a civil-rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor Ed Murray, who’s running for citywide Position 9.

imgresThe C Is for Crank [ECB]
: Your race has ended up focusing on land use and development even more than other races, because your opponent, Bill Bradburd, is such an outspoken critic of HALA and many forms of density in neighborhoods. Now that it’s just the two of you in the race, what would you like to focus on?

Lorena González [LG]: Affordability, transportation, labor standards, police accountability, and issues around pay equity.

ECB: Pay equity is something council member Jean Godden [who lost her bid for District 4 in the primary] brings up a lot, but I’m not sure it’s really being addressed at the city. What’s your take?

LG: I tend to look at those issues in the context of intersectionality. What we’re missing is a stronger focus on women, and women of color in particular, and how pay equity plays out in terms of women of color, how the gender pay gap plays out, and how to bring down the disparity for both white women and women of color. How do we increase the pipeline to careers that pay better, including for women of color?

And then really digging into other issues, like how are we making decisions around merit pay [at the city], and are there any discrepancies around how those things above and beyond salary get decided? There’s merit pay and how many days you get off. That’s based on your performance. And there are pay bands within the city, but your starting pay within that band is up to your employer. The way I looked at it was really talking through what different strategies we could use in fire, in police, in the Department of Information Technology.

ECB: In a study of the gender pay gap that concluded there isn’t much of a pay equity in city employment, those very departments, plus City Light, were separated from the rest of the city, because they’re overwhelmingly male-dominated, allowing the city to That strikes me as a sneaky out that absolves the city of the responsibility for recruiting more women and minorities to those higher-paying jobs. What did you think of that when you saw the report?

LG: Those are different in a lot of ways than other job classifications that are available at the city.  You can’t eliminate the fact that there is a pay gap in the other job classifications, it just happens that the gap in those positions isn’t as severe. And, to a certain extent, it might be useful to look at those positions separately. The pipeline issue is real. We need to create some creative public-private partnerships and have a conversation about how we place young girls in STEM fields—and not only that, but also feeling that this is a field that they could do: Getting them internships, getting them into the right college classes that are going to position them to land jobs at the city.

ECB: The city recently added four weeks of paid parental leave to its benefits package. At the same time, the county decided to provide twelve weeks of paid parental leave. Do you think the city is doing enough for new parents, especially mothers?

LG: There’s room for improvement, but that was a huge deal for us to get four weeks of paid leave. Four weeks is better than nothing. We have to make sure that it’s being complemented with other types of paid leave. All together, the paid leave plus parental leave adds up to about 12 weeks, so I do think the paid leave that the city provides already is generous. I’m hopeful that now that we have paid leave, we’ll be able to see more women staying at the city.

As a city council member, you want to make sure city employees are taken care of, but there are also 600,000 employees in the city that need to have paid parental policies too. We might want to pursue paid parental leave outside of the City of Seattle too. We would need to take to stakeholders and make sure they understand what the need is.

ECB: What was your response to the Amazon story in the New York Times, which basically said that Amazon pushes women out for getting pregnant or taking time off to care for family members?

LG: I come with some background in worker rights and making sure that working conditions are fair to workers. And yes, these are higher-paid workers. I’ve known for a long time that there are concerns about how it treats its workers. I’ve talked to workers in the warehouse who have similar concerns. Unfortunately, it took professional workers to highlight the problems. We have to really talk about whether or not it’s appropriate for the companies in our city to be heartless in terms of how they treat their workers.

ECB: If you and Debora Juarez are elected, the council will have three women of color (along with Kshama Sawant or her somewhat long-shot opponent Pam Banks), and four people of color. Do you think that shift will make the council focus more on racial, social, and economic justice?

LG: My hope is that change will come from outside—that by having a city council that looks more like more communities, we’ll have more representation in the community. With districts, I have concerns about how the lines were drawn. Any time we’re looking at districting issues, we need to make sure we’re not gerrymandering and creating communities that are diluted. I don’t think equity was taken into account when these lines were being drawn, or that it was taken into account and that’s why those lines were drawn the way they were.

[A district system] does  make it more manageable for people of color and women to consider running. It’s possible for a person to put some shoe leather into it.

ECB: Are you all in on HALA?

Yes.  There are 65 recommendations, and I think I’m on board with the vast majority of them. The linkage fee on the commercial side, mandatory inclusionary zoning on the residential side. I think we need to confer a bit more on some preservation aspects, and figuring out how we manage to keep the existing stock of affordable housing. We need to figure out, how do we provide relief to renters and provide tenant protections? It’s a very solid place to start. What I’m hoping to see is more time spent on those particular strategies.

For me, as a policy maker and an advocate, I always ask myself : How does this policy impact the most underrepresented folks in our community? It will be unfortunate if people sacrifice reasonable tools to create affordable housing for political reasons.


Rob Johnson, District 4

Michael Maddux, District 4

Mike O’Brien, District 6

Catherine Weatbrook, District 6

Tim Burgess, Position 8

Jon Grant, Position 8

13 thoughts on “The C Is for Crank Interviews: Lorena González”

  1. I think we need to confer a bit more on some preservation aspects, and figuring out how we manage to keep the existing stock of affordable housing.

    I hear a lot of talk like this from anti-HALA neighborhood types (and their council candidate allies, like Lisa Herbold at STB), and I’m very much hoping you mean something different like that. The presumption seems to be that the way to preserve the still existing affordable single family homes is to reduce all possible incentives to tear them down. But this is insane–affordable single family homes are disappearing at an extraordinary clip, but not because they’re being torn down, but because they’re being bid up. Here’s a decent threshold for middle class family affordability–300K/3 bedrooms. In 2010, I helped a friend look for a house, with a budget right around there, although she considered 2 bedrooms as well. We looked at lots of places that fit this threshold, and we focused solely on North Seattle. (The nicer, more updated, and more desirable neighborhood houses were generally over this threshold, but there were some fine options for the non-picky that did. If she’d been willing to look South, there were many hundreds more. Now, using Zillow and excluding auctions of houses that’ll go for much more and obvious teardowns, there’s probably about 10 houses that meet that threshold.

    Very, very few of those used-to-be-affordable, now aren’t, houses were torn down and replaced. They ceased to be affordable because they became a much scarcer commodity. So, sure, if looked at entirely in isolation, losing one 375K house and replacing it with 2 500K units on smaller lots looks like a net loss for affordability, if you place the affordability threshold between 375 and 500. But in the big picture, you’re protecting stock by heightening scarcity, which makes it less likely that 375K house will stay under the threshold much longer.

    TL/DR: Of the lost affordable single family housing in the last 15-20 years, the ratio of affordable houses lost to scarcity, compared to those lost to teardowns, is very lopsided; much greater than 10:1. The teardown threat is a bit of a red herring, and focusing on it risks exacerbates the main threat.

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