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 Deborah Zech-Artis, the long-shot (very long-shot) opponent to council incumbent Sally Bagshaw for District 7. Zech-Artis—who this week declared at a Downtown Seattle Association forum that “dieting the roads” had created insufferable traffic congestions on streets like Nickerson and Stone Way—lives on Queen Anne; we met at Cherry Street Coffee in Pioneer Square.
The C Is for Crank [ECB]: As someone who had never heard of you before you decided to run against Sally Bagshaw, I’m curious to find out what your background is and why you’re running for city council now.
Deborah Zech-Artis [DZA]: When I was a little kid, we’d drive up Queen Anne Hill, and I would look up at the top of the hill and ask my dad what kind of people lived up there, and my dad said, “nice people,” and I decided that I wanted to live up there. I got married when I was 21, and we moved to Queen Anne in 1975, and I’ve been there ever since.
When you’re newly married, you get involved in your husband’s stuff, so I got involved in sports. Of course, I’m just a girl, so I didn’t know anything about softball or what the rules were, but I ended up coaching my son’s Little League because none of the men wanted to do it. I became head of Seattle Little League and I was 34 when i finally graduated. I was in the Navy reserves, and I worked as a buyer for the state of Washington, and I got a job as a buyer with Boeing.
I’ve always been in male-dominated industries. When I see a problem, I get involved, and I’m really irritated with what’s going on in the city right now. I’m fed up with traffic, with the city council and mayor not being responsive to people. I have lots of friends who have brought stuff to the mayor and the city council for years, and they never receive a response.
ECB: Can you give me an example?
DZA: Density is one issue. Not being able to know who the homeless are and where they come from—not looking at why they’re here. The city council and mayor don’t look at root causes. There’s a lot of roadblocks, or they just don’t care. I’m tired of the city being run by developers. Developers are setting policy for the planning and permitting departments. If you own a home and you want to build a mother-in-law unit and you have an appointment at the permitting office, if a developer comes in, you get shunted to the back. Even if you wanted to build a duplex, you would get shunted to the bottom of the pile. In my mind, it should not matter how much money you have. You should get the same service.
ECB: Why are you running in District 7 against Sally rather than running citywide?
DZA: Sally’s a nice person, but Sally is backed by developers. You can see it in her donations. She doesn’t listen to regular people. I have tried to get a hold of Sally for years about parks issues and I never get a call back. Everybody on the council has something they’re responsible for. That’s the way it’s set up right now—you have to go to that person. We’re still going to be on those committees, but [districts] gives you a voice, which you didn’t have before. It gives everyone in the city a voice. So many people in the city who have ideas, who have thoughts, they’re not being heard. There are so many ideas sitting out there that it’s not even funny.
Seattle is a small town. I don’t care if it has one million people or ten million people in it, this city has a small-town mentality, and there’s nothing wrong with that. One of the things I love about Seattle is that we care about each other. That’s who we are. My district’s really getting hit bad [by density]. All the low-cost housing that used to be around that area isn’t there any more. The city outlawed [single-room occupancy rooming houses, or] SROs. Nobody’s doing it. There’s no money in it. So in lieu of that, I’ve talked about having a certain percentage of apartments set aside for low-income housing, and put that money into a principal fund for subsidies for housing or for property taxes, which are skyrocketing. Lots of seniors can’t afford their property taxes anymore.
ECB: Given your opposition to density, is there anything you like about the mayor’s HALA proposals?
DZA: There are good things and bad things. I’m talking about the [commericial] linkage fee, mother-in-laws, and backyard cottages. I’m totally in favor of that. But we’re not going to be able to build our way out of the housing shortage. Developers are not going to build until we have a shortage. That’s when they do that. The rents are going to be high.
The thing that was really bad in HALA was upzoning. When you do that, the land value goes up, your house value goes down, and property taxes go up. That’s going to cause land inflation.
ECB: What do you think of the mayor’s Move Seattle plan [the $930 million property tax levy on the ballot in November]?
DZA: We’re trying to get people out of their cars. So what do they do? They get rid of one of the two Magnolia routes. King County has taken away a lot of bus routes. If they want people to get out of their cars, they have to stop taking away routes. In Tokyo, you have one big route running around the city, and you can get on and off the routes like spokes. Why should I have to commute into downtown just to go from Queen Anne to University Village? Why do you have to go to downtown and transfer? It’s ridiculous. It would be nice to have a bus that just runs around the top of Queen Anne so you don’t have to get in your car. Same thing with Magnolia. Up on Aurora, the E [RapidRide] line starts at 200th, so the money we voted in can’t be used on the E Line because of where it starts. Why don’t we have a short bus that goes from where people are to downtown? I’ve never seen a survey on buses about where the people are going. On Emerson, the city was doing some work and they had people standing under the Magnolia Bridge writing down people’s license plates. Why can’t they do that with bus riders?
ECB: There is no homeless encampment proposed in your district yet, but how do you feel about encampments in the city in general?
DZA: Homeless camps. in my opinion–they have to go away. It’s not mentally healthy, it’s not emotionally healthy, it’s not physically health or spiritually healthy for people to live there. When city leaders say this camp is going to be here, you don’t have a say in it. In Ballard, most people are not opposed to camp, they’re just want to have a better place for it to go. The city has said, “you’re not allowed to know where these people are from or why they’re here, what their issues are, why they’re homeless.” If we’re going to give them money, we should at least know why we’re doing it. How do you help somebody if you don’t know where they’re from?
I went to a women’s shelter on Third and I chatted for two hours with all these ladies there. These women don’t have families, or are estranged from their families, or they can’t get a job because of their age. That puts them in a situation where they’re dependent on services. We need to get them into proper housing or short-term housing that’s not in a tent. The city owns a lot of properties with buildings on them. Why aren’t they doing something to retrofit those building?