This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.
Today: District 1 City Council member Lisa Herbold, who represents West Seattle and South Park.
The C Is for Crank (ECB): Because so many council members are leaving, if you’re reelected, you’ll be one of the senior members of the city council. What are some of your top priorities for a second term?
Lisa Herbold (LH): I’m interested in working with council member [Teresa] Mosqueda on the work that she plans to do on the comprehensive plan—revisiting single-family neighborhood zoning, and looking at how we can do that in a way that brings people together and doesn’t become another big wedge issue for the city. And I think it’s important to figure out a way to have those conversations that doesn’t put people into camps—either NIMBYs or urbanists. So I want to play a role in that, because I think there’s a right way of having those conversations.
For instance, [Mandatory Housing Affordability], as it relates to single-family zoning, is focused on single-family zoning only within urban villages. The planning commission has made a set of recommendations for single-family zoning outside of urban villages, and I know that council member Mosqueda is very interested in the issue. I’m really concerned that the conversation won’t be held in a way that brings people together, because it hasn’t in the past. And then there’s the whole question of neighborhood planning around our urban village strategy. She has, for instance, asked for a [racial equity toolkit] on the urban village strategies. I imagine there’s going to be some recommendations that come out of that.
I think that we should have neighborhood-based input. I’m supportive of the direction that [the Department of Neighborhoods] has moved in [toward including communities that have been traditionally excluded from neighborhood planning], but not as a replacement for some sort of geographic-based engagement. In the efforts to involve people in these conversations that haven’t historically been at the table, I think that we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
I think for instance, when you’re talking about neighborhood matching funds or the neighborhood street fund, these participatory budgeting-type programs that seek to empower community to make decisions about improvements in their communities, I’m just concerned that, in our efforts to model our values of equity, we’ve alienated people who have something to contribute to our city, who care deeply about their communities.
“I’m supportive of the direction that [the Department of Neighborhoods] has moved in, but not as a replacement for some sort of geographic-based engagement. In the efforts to involve people in these conversations that haven’t historically been at the table, I think that we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater.”
ECB: The mayor’s budget continues the expansion of the Navigation Team [which removes unauthorized encampments from public spaces, often with no notice or offers of services to their displaced residents.] Are you going to be pushing for changes to the team’s current model or way of doing things?
LH: I’ve been working on implementing the recommendations of the city auditor, particularly on hygiene and garbage pickup. So for instance, I helped pilot the purple bag program [which provides purple trash bags and trash pickup to some encampments], but [Seattle Public Utilities] only visits 12 sites at any given time. I believe that our need to prioritize sites for removal might be mitigated if we make it possible for people that are living unsheltered to pick up their own garbage. I know Seattle Public Utilities feels good about the work that they’re doing. And this program has been replicated in Austin.
One of the things that the city auditor is doing is mapping all of the removed encampments over the last year, to find out where people return. Maybe the locations where people return aren’t locations that are inherently dangerous. Maybe there’s some logic for why people return there. Maybe for those locations, rather than chasing them away from them, we should make it possible for people to clean them.
I’m going to be working with the campaign that Real Change is doing in March, called Everybody Poops. It comes out of the recommendations of the city auditor that we ought to have a mobile pit stop like other cities do. It’s a way of providing people with something that they need and also providing opportunities for engaging in case management services. There’s also a slate of recommendations related to hygiene that the city auditor made. We have some of our community centers that have showers that have made them available to all members of the public, whether or not you’re signed up for programs, and so one of the recommendations is to open all of them. Another recommendation is to staff a couple of the standalone bathrooms in parks. And then of course there’s making sure that our permanent Urban Rest Stops are able to find spaces.
ECB: The mayor has proposed legislation that would crack down on people renting run-down RVs to people who would otherwise be unsheltered. What do you think of the legislation as proposed? [Editor’s note: After our conversation, the council dramatically revised the legislation to add tenant relocation funding and to limit the scope of the proposal; further amendments are expected when the council takes the proposal up again after budget deliberations, which end in November]
LH: We have a way to pay tenants of rental housing that the city is shutting down under emergency order because there are life safety issues that are so severe that somebody can’t continue to live there. The city advances the relocation assistance and then they work on pursuing the landlord later. But they pay first.
So I actually see this very similar to that, depending on how it’s administered. People could say about that rental housing, ‘Well, it’s better than living unsheltered.’ Okay, but nevertheless, it is the city’s policy to not let rental housing providers exploit tenants by collecting rent and forcing them to live in places that they have refused to fix and that have significant life safety violations. That is the city’s policy. So I see this as in many ways being very consistent with that. But the thing I’m worried about is whether or not the city is going to be looking for these instances as a way to accomplish a different objective [getting RVs off the street].
ECB: What do you think of the proposed structure of the regional homelessness agency, which would be a public development authority with no elected officials or service providers on the governing board? There are slots for people with ‘lived experience of homelessness,’ but that in itself can be problematic, given the motivation to appoint people with a certain point of view.
LH: I get the point is to make sure that it’s not politicized and that we’re not mucking around in the process. But I’m also like, when was the last time we got involved in the Pike Place Market’s business, or Historic Seattle, or [the Seattle Chinatown–ID Preservation and Development Authority]? I’ll can think of half a dozen PDAs that the city actually votes to appoint, and our ability to actually vote on the membership has not led to us interfering with the day-to-day operations of the organizations.
I have been reached out to by a respected provider of homelessness and housing services in Seattle, who’s concerned that we’re going too far the other way in our desire to include people with lived experience. And I think that might be the language that is being used, but I think that the flip side of it is really a concern about not having any service provider participation. That’s another set of lived experiences. Where do people go when you make a mistake? It’s like the structure is built on the presumption that everything’s going to be perfect because of the structure, the structure is going to guarantee that they’re going to be making all the right decisions. Well, where do people go when they’re not making the right decisions?
“It’s like the structure [of the proposed regional homelessness authority] is built on the presumption that everything’s going to be perfect because of the structure; the structure is going to guarantee that they’re going to be making all the right decisions. Well, where do people go when they’re not making the right decisions?”
ECB: Given the failure of the head tax, what kind of progressive revenue source would you propose to fund additional services and housing for people experiencing homelessness?
LH: You know, even though I had severe PTSD talking about the employee hours tax for the first year after the repeal, I’m starting to say to people more and more that the discussion around progressive revenue is not going away. The mechanism may not be the head tax. If you recall, what the council eventually voted on was an employee hours tax that turns into a payroll tax. And maybe we won’t have to talk about a payroll tax or employee tax at all if we get the income tax on the affluent [which was just upheld by the state Court of Appeals and is heading to the state Supreme Court]. I mean, that’s $140 million. And let’s talk about rolling back some property tax rollback and a rollback of city sales tax while we’re at it.
ECB: In response to a US District Judge James Robart’s ruling that the Seattle Police Department is partly out of compliance with the federal consent decree, specifically with regard to police accountability, Mayor Durkan proposed assembling a committee to look at what other cities have done. The Community Police Commission unanimously rejected this proposal. What was your reaction?
LH: I don’t think the intent is to be saying to people that we don’t appreciate the depth of knowledge that we have in this community on the issue and the years of research that you’ve done on where the gaps are in our accountability assessment and the research that you’ve done in other cities. I think it is sincerely an effort to hit reset. But I think it’s coming from your place that on some level believes that we have a superior system than other cities, and that this is what, that’s what this review is going to prove.
“I also recognize that it must be really hard working under that kind of scrutiny. And the way to make it so that officers aren’t working under that kind of scrutiny is to address these three issues that the court has said we have to address.”
ECB: What do you see as a potential path forward on the issues the judge identified in his finding of partial noncompliance?
LH: The appeal that I joined in with council member Gonzalez was designed to try and deliver two messages. A message to the mayor, asking for her to join with us in seeking a reopener [on the narrow issues identified by Judge Robart—not a full renegotiation of the police contract]. And the other message was the message to [the Seattle Police Officers Guild], trying to appeal to them that it’s in their best interest to reopen on those three items because we have this morale issue. I believe that it is incredibly difficult to work under a federal consent decree. That doesn’t mean I don’t want constitutional policing. I want constitutional policing. But I also recognize that it must be really hard working under that kind of scrutiny. And the way to make it so that officers aren’t working under that kind scrutiny is to address these three issues that the court has said we have to address. So that was the point of that appeal. It’s not just about morale, it’s about meeting our staffing goals.
Sometimes people hear me say this and think I’m just giving some sort of a spin, and that really it’s just about giving the CPC what they want. My earliest community organizing was around public safety and it was about the need for adequate police staffing in low-income neighborhoods. I believe we need to meet our staffing goals of adding 200 officers. We’re never going to meet those goals if we’re having to hire for all of our attrition because people are leaving because the department is under a consent decree, I could not be more sincere in holding equally my desire for constitutional policing with my desire for growing the police department.
I was part of the discussions last year around recruitment and retention. That was trying to push the department to really look at its own policies and look at the policies of other cities so that we could improve recruitment and retention. And the administration kept coming back and saying that we’re doing everything, and I really believe really strongly that we could be doing more. I didn’t know it was what the programs were that we should do. So I’m supportive of doing more around recruitment and retention.
The fact that 85 percent of large police forces across the country aren’t meeting their hiring goals says something. It says that the idea of being a police officer is not as attractive to people as it once was. So if we could have police officers talking about why it’s a great job, I think that might help, among those people who believe it’s a great job. Not the 10 percent of people who think that the city council is tying their hands. The city council which, by the way, is not in the command structure of SPD and does not have the ability to tie the police department’s hands.