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: Tammy Morales, an organizer for the Rainier Beach Action Coalition and former Seattle Human Rights Commission member. Morales ran in 2015 against District 2 incumbent Bruce Harrell and lost by just over 300 votes. She’s running for the same position this year, but without Harrell (who’s retiring) in the running.
The C Is for Crank (ECB): Four years ago, you ran as a progressive alternative to Bruce Harrell, but you certainly strike me as the kind of candidate that would join the DSA or call yourself a socialist. So how have your positions changed in the four years since you last ran?
Tammy Morales (TM): I don’t know if my positions have changed. I think for me, I’ve gotten clearer about sort of the macro economic structure that is driving the inequality in our country. That’s why I was really interested in learning more about what DSA is. And tied to that is my deeper understanding about racial inequality and how so much of that is rooted in every structure and system that we have in this country and this sort of extractive economy that is driven by this constant need to grow and expand the markets. And it all just sort of came together for me in a way that it was less clear before.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in small business or that I don’t believe in having a market-based economy. But it does mean that I think even more so strongly now that the role of local government is to intervene when the market is failing the most vulnerable in our community.
(Morales followed up later to say that she would consider a business and occupation tax rebate program for micro-businesses with fewer than 20 employees, commercial rent control or longer leases for small businesses, community land trusts for commercial spaces, and a public bank that could provide small-business loans).
ECB: When you say “growth,” are you referring to economic growth or growth in terms of population?
TM: Well, I think the people growth is driven by our idea that we have to constantly attract more businesses. We have to expand industry. We have to provide the incentives that let Amazon bring 53,000 people here. And at some point, you reach capacity and it’s just not a sustainable model, especially when we haven’t really prepared all the infrastructure that we need to absorb that.
“We’re talking about permanent, affordable housing, things like community land trusts that could ensure long-term affordability, right of return, affirmative marketing of projects, and preserving existing affordability rather than allowing for affordable buildings to be torn down and replaced with market-rate buildings.”
ECB: When you talk about infrastructure, are you talking about concurrency [the idea that the city shouldn’t allow more density without providing infrastructure to support it]?
TM: We’re witnessing the result of this confluence of things. The feds have disinvested in public housing, our housing policy has been driven by serving developers that are interested in facilitating more market-rate construction, and then there’s the fact that we grew by 100,000 people in 10 years and our projections were that we would do that in 20. We just weren’t ready. And so we’re playing catch up. And what that means is that because so much of what has been in the pipeline for construction has been market-rate and not workforce housing or low-income housing, we’re witnessing displacement, especially in this district. So one of the priorities for me is dealing with that displacement.
ECB: Tell me about some of the policies you would want to implement to deal with displacement.
TM: We’re talking about inclusionary zoning—revisiting that and making it mandatory to include some percentage [of affordable housing on-site at new developments] rather than chipping into a pot of funds. We’re talking about permanent, affordable housing, things like community land trusts that could ensure longterm affordability for rental or homeownership opportunities, right of return, affirmative marketing of projects, and preserving existing affordability rather than allowing for affordable buildings to be torn down and replaced with market-rate buildings or something that people can’t afford anymore. So I think there are a slew of things that we could be doing to acknowledge that we can’t keep pushing out low-income folks out of the city.
ECB: When Kathy Nyland was head of the Department of Neighborhoods, she pushed for a new kind of outreach and engagement strategy that reached neighborhoods who had been excluded from traditional policymaking discussions. The idea was to expand the idea of community engagement beyond the traditional neighborhood district councils. How do you think that’s going now?
TM: I just spent a year working on a racial equity analysis with the office of civil rights, and the thing that we talked about for a year was the lack of commitment to authentic community engagement. So I think we need to reinvest in that department. We need to bring back the neighborhood service offices, so that people don’t have to go downtown, so that the resources that folks need to help them navigate the city departments are here for them, and to provide it in language and during hours that people can actually access.
The other thing is that if we are going to hold ourselves accountable to being a race and social justice city, a human rights city, then we have to commit to what it takes to do authentic community engagement. I think what I would like to see is that every city department has, in their budget, a line item for community engagement. So you budget for public education, for outreach, for events in the neighborhoods. And that needs to include funding for translators, for childcare, for food, for stipends for community members who you’re asking to come and give up their time to share their expertise about their neighborhood.
ECB: In response to recent news about fare enforcement, a lot of people are calling for free transit. That would obviously impact District 2, which has both light rail and some of the heaviest-ridership buses in the county along with a lower-income population than most other council districts. What do you think of that idea?
TM: I know Metro gets cranky whenever candidates start talking about this. This is where I do start thinking about revenue in the city and in the state, and, um, what it would take to be able to provide free transit, which is why I supported the statewide income tax, capital gains tax or whatever we can do to try to generate a more progressive funding stream in the city and in the state. Because I do think that we have a role to play in providing basic ways for people to get around.
ECB: You’ve been a food security advocate for a number of years. What are some steps that the city counts that you as a city council member would take to improve food security in District 2, which is a district where a lot of residents lack access to healthy food?
TM: We need longterm, local food resiliency. People need to learn how to grow food again, needs to learn where food comes from. And so, to the extent that we can expand community gardens, support people in growing their own foods so that they could start to understand what that means, that’s important. As part of the local Food Action Plan, we created and expanded the Fresh Bucks program [which gives SNAP recipients access to fresh fruits and vegetables], and it’s oversubscribed.
ECB: Is there anything that could be done about the fact that a place like Capitol Hill has a million grocery stores all offering healthy produce and other food and this area really has just this Safeway that we’re sitting [at Starbucks in]?.
TM: Yes. It’s [partly] a land use issue. So one solution is getting grocery stores not to necessarily feel like they have to have this 40,000-square-foot format. So we could make it easier for small-scale grocery stores make it easier for those to open. We used to have a program called Healthy Foods Here that supported ethnic grocers in trying to sell more fresh produce. It was marginally successful. But I think the way that would work better is rather than the department of public health coming in to the store and saying, please try to sell vegetables, is if we made it easier for entrepreneurs, small business owners, to open a grocery. Changing the format, even just allowing more mobile produce stands and more farmer’s markets [would help], although that’s a stretch for the farmers themselves.
ECB: You’ve talked about the need for progressive revenue to pay for housing and homelessness programs. Given the defeat of the head tax, what would you propose?
TM: Bringing back the head tax. It passed. It was unanimous. To me that speaks to the fact that the council understands that we can’t keep paying for the things that the city needs to pay for on the backs of low-income people. [Relying on] property tax and sales tax is just not equitable. And it was a fraction of the big corporations in the city that would have been impacted by this. So we will be having that conversation.
ECB: The new regional homelessness authority does not have any taxing authority or come with any additional revenue. How do you respond to the idea that the region can address homelessness through efficiencies?
TM: I’m skeptical. I don’t know how we can say we can do more with less when we’re not doing enough with what we have right now. We’re not going to find operational efficiencies to solve this problem. In an ideal world, sure, this agency will streamline contracting, will fix the issues with coordinated entry, will fix the crisis with the shelter beds and make sure that there’s actually enough places for people to go and that we know which ones are available, and then we have a way to send them there and they’re not going show up and realize that the bed is already gone or they couldn’t bring their dog. That piece will be addressed. But that’s not going to solve the problem, which is that we need more permanent supportive housing. We need more wraparound services. We need eviction reform. We need more workforce housing and low-income housing units to be built.
I do agree that this isn’t just a Seattle problem. The suburban cities need to be involved. The county needs to be involved. So I think there’s potential there, but to assume that by laying people off over time and cutting staff, that you’re going to solve all of the challenges that we have with the system—I’m skeptical.
“[I would bring] back the head tax. It passed. It was unanimous. To me that speaks to the fact that the council understands that we can’t keep paying for the things that the city needs to pay for on the backs of low-income people.”
ECB: Mayor Jenny Durkan’s latest budget funds the continuation of yet another midyear Navigation Team expansion. What would you do with that money instead?
TM: Removing encampments is inhumane. It’s unjust. It strips people of their dignity. It’s a waste of public dollars because anybody you talk to who has watched a sweep happen, even business owners in Georgetown, will say that they’re back within hours. So why are we spending money on that? It’s ineffective and it’s a waste of staff time. It’s a waste of money. So instead, we should be spending that resource on expanding [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion], which—while it takes longer—has been effective at moving people into more stable situations. It takes 12 months or 18 months, but that’s because the case managers are building relationships with the people who are on the streets. They know where they are, they know, you know, today’s not the day to offer drug treatment, maybe you just need lunch. And so with that kind of relationship, they’re able to move people to services or to a housing situation when it’s going to work.
“The whole notion that we can have public employees, funded with taxpayer dollars, who carry a weapon, and not expect accountability from them is just inconceivable to me.”
ECB: Judge James Robart found the Seattle Police Department partly out of compliance with a federal consent decree based on disciplinary procedures adopted in the new contract. How would you propose addressing this significant setback? Should the contract be reopened?
TM: What I understand is that there is language that could open up the contract. It has to be agreed upon. There are certain conditions. There are, let’s say, half a dozen issues that [the contract says], if we agree, we can come back to the table and reopen this contract and have a conversation about it. Both sides agreed to that.
What the CPC and what the community members were asking for is to reopen based on those few things. And it quickly turned into this conversation about breaking labor law because you’re trying to reopen a contract that’s already been signed. [The Seattle Police Officers Guild] could say, we agreed to this list, let’s have a conversation. But they’re not even doing that. They’re saying, we agreed that we could talk about this, but we’re not going to. In my mind, that’s disingenuous.
What I do know is that the organizations that signed the letter are all from this district, and are organizations led by people of color. And these are the folks who are most impacted by unconstitutional policing. And so I think they have every right to be demanding accountability. And the whole notion that we can have public employees, funded with taxpayer dollars, who carry a weapon, and not expect accountability from them is just inconceivable to me. So I think that that piece—it’s frustrating to me that we we’ve rolled back so much during the negotiation process that all of that accountability work that the community had been doing, really, for decades got stripped out.