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: Dan Strauss, a legislative aide to retiring District 7 council member Sally Bagshaw and nearly lifelong Ballard resident who is running to replacing District 6 representative Mike O’Brien, who’s leaving the council after 10 years. We sat down at Ballard Coffee Works on NW Market Street, which becomes pertinent a couple of times during this interview.
The C Is for Crank (ECB): When you’re knocking on doors, how do you respond to complaints that the city isn’t doing enough to address visible homelessness in District 6, particularly in Ballard?
Dan Strauss (DS): I talk to them about the need to be able to provide everyone who is experiencing homelessness the opportunity to come inside four walls with a door that they can lock, that’s connected to the services that they need. I mean, that’s the baseline of what we need to be doing. And it’s a travesty that we aren’t providing enough enhanced shelters or places for people to be able to keep their things during the middle of the day, that folks are pushed out of their overnight shelters very early in the morning and haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep, and so now they’re sleeping during the day. That’s what we need to be focusing on. And that’s how I direct their commentary.
When I was growing up, there was a single resident occupancy hotel [in Ballard], which burned down in 2000. That was a place where people would be able to have four walls and a door that they could lock if rent was short that month, or if they were off of a fishing boat for a minute, or something like that. And so I think that’s something that is sometimes lost when we’re talking about what’s going on in Ballard—there have always been people experiencing homelessness in our community.
“In my perfect world, we would be bonding against our existing tax streams, using our total bonding capacity to build the housing we need today.”
ECB: You’ve also mentioned that you supported safe consumption sites. It’s been more than three years since the King County Opiate Task Force recommended opening two safe consumption sites in the county, and obviously it hasn’t happened. Are you just stating your values, or are you planning to actively push for safe consumption if you’re elected?
DS: There’s not a legal pathway given the federal government’s current position. So these are values I hold, because I know that harm reduction models work. This is the most extreme harm reduction model available, and there’s other ways that we can reduce harm in our communities. We know that there are drug addiction is a medical disease and it can be treated with medical interventions.
ECB: You said at a recent forum that you don’t support sweeping homeless people from place to place. What would you do with the Navigation Team, and is there more nuance that you weren’t able to express in that yes/no question?
DS: The nuance with that is that the Navigation Team, in its essence, is supposed to navigate people to services and to a safe, warm, dry place to live. And the problem is that we don’t have enough of those resources, right? So if we did have enough places with four walls and a door that someone can lock, that has the services on site, the Navigation Team would be effective.
ECB: In the absence of that, what would you propose to address people’s short-term needs?
DS: In the short term, we need to treat this like the emergency that it is. The fact that it’s taking three to five years for the modular houses from King County to come online—that’s not satisfactory. We know what the solutions are and that we need to get going, and we need to put this at the front of the queue.
“All [the Office of Police Accountability] does is file complaints and grievances. We should also be giving commendations and saying, ‘You did a good job.’“
ECB: You’ve mentioned finding efficiencies in the system as one way to save money and be able to invest more in things like housing and shelter. Do you think that there needs to be a new revenue source as well?
DS: I mean, at this point, especially for the capital side of things, there’s no way around that. The ride share tax that [Mayor Jenny Durkan just proposed]—that’s another revenue source. I would love to see the state do more. I’d love to see the county do more. I’d love to work with my colleagues to develop good proposals that aren’t putting the burden on property or sales tax. What I would love to see is us fully use our bonding capacity. In my perfect world, we would be bonding against our existing tax streams, using our total bonding capacity to build the housing we need today. We’re in an emergency—we’re just straight-up in an emergency. If there is any untapped [bonding] capacity, that needs to be used.
ECB: What do you think of how the mayor has proposed allocating the revenues from the ride share tax, splitting it between housing and the streetcar?
DS: I think we’re at the point where we’re going to need to connect the streetcars or rip them up. It’s just such an example how Seattle does things halfway. And we’ve had such a long history of doing things halfway. And that’s one of the reasons that I decided to run. I’m tired of seeing it done that way. We need to have Yesler Terrace connected to South Lake Union and South Lake Union connected to the International District. The frustrations that I have with the streetcar is it needs to have dedicated lanes, and we need to have a connected system. It’s also frustrating that this was a premier mode of transportation when it was first proposed and we never got behind it and now we’re behind the times.
I don’t think that the housing dollars should expire in five years. And I would love to see a way that we could get those funds to be bondable.
ECB: Do you think the city should also have congestion pricing for people driving into downtown?
DS: I am very concerned with equity and if our proposals don’t take equity into account, I can’t support them, period. I have said yes, with equity.
ECB: What does that mean—discounts for lower-income people or delivery truck drivers who drive into downtown to work?
DS: We’re not even at the outreach stage yet. We’re still in the initial policy development phase. So I haven’t seen a proposal yet. I’m not going to negotiate against myself here. What’s important for me is people who work more than one job, people who work odd hours, people who are making minimum wage or not much more. Where this comes from is still being shell-shocked from a [2016 carbon pricing] initiative [I-732] being put forward that did not talk to our lowest-income communities and our communities of color and the people who are disproportionately impacted by pollution.
ECB: Would you have voted for the current police contract? And given that the city is still out of compliance with the federal consent decree, what would you do to get them back in compliance if not reopening the contract?
DS: I’m not going to bring it to the labor relations board and then open it up to a mediator that is chosen by the police union. We can see where that goes pretty clearly. And we need to compensate our police officers. The problem for me is that there was an accountability ordinance [passed by the council] that had a long process of outreach and engagement, and that ordinance brought us into compliance with the [federal] consent decree. And we were over a year through the two-year window where we have to demonstrate that we [remain in compliance]. I think it’s problematic that we removed the accountability ordinance [in adopting the new contract], because we now have to get back to being in compliance with the consent decree. And then furthermore, we have to go through that two-year period. If we want to talk about raising the morale of our police department, let’s get Washington, D.C’.s nose out of our business so that we’re just focusing on what locals think, need, and want.
“I want the record to clearly reflect in 1994, when the original [Missing Link] proposal was put forward, the only politically viable way to get bike infrastructure in the city was rails-to-trails. That was it. And so that’s why it was the correct route then. At this point we see economic benefits from having trails come through commercial cores.”
ECB: You mentioned the consent decree as an issue that impacts officer morale. What else do you think could improve morale and retention at SPD?
DS: All [the Office of Police Accountability] does is file complaints and grievances. We should also be giving commendations and saying, ‘You did a good job.’ I’m a positive thinker and I always bend toward positivity. We have some great police officers here in Ballard who walk the beat and that’s the type of policing we need. Why can’t we tell them they did a good job?
ECB: Instead of completing the Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman Trail as designed, you’e said you support building a bike path on Leary Way, which is a complete non-starter with the bike community. It is supported by the businesses who oppose completing the trail. Based on what I’ve heard you say on the campaign trail, it sounds like you’ve been convinced that businesses will be destroyed if the city builds the Missing Link as planned.
DS: My first community meeting about the Missing Link was in 1994 when I was eight years old. My dad was one of the first people to join up and rally to complete the Missing Link. And at that point, the Missing Link was from Fremont and it didn’t go to Golden Gardens. So, you know, as an eight- to-10-year old, I was helping clean up the tracks next to where the Fred Meyer would eventually go in the hopes that we could convince that section to be completed. So I’ve watched as the Missing Link went from just ending in Fremont to the point where, now, we’re dealing with the last mile and a quarter. Also, things in Ballard have just changed radically in the last five years. Even in five years, the city’s perspective on how we use right away has dramatically changed. So I want the record to clearly reflect in 1994, when the original proposal was put forward, the only politically viable way to get bike infrastructure in the city was rails-to-trails. That was it. And so that’s why it was the correct route then. At this point we see economic benefits from having trails come through commercial cores.
And I’m about big, bold visions. I was born and raised here and I want to see this place be a world-class city for anyone who wants to move here and live here. And so we could have pedestrian-only space, the Burke Gilman coming through here [at this point, Strauss gestured out the window of Ballard Coffee Works toward NW Market St.], transit-only lanes. So you could have reliable transit from downtown Seattle to downtown Ballard, and protected bike lanes for the emerging transportation micromobility that we’re going to experience in the next six months to a year, and a downtown core that you could get in and out of with ease.
So for me it’s more than just the Missing Link. I think that the Missing Link has been the only human-scale infrastructure conversation that we’ve been having. And my big bold vision wouldn’t be possible without 20 years of advocacy. And the other thing is that because I’ve been part of this conversation the whole time, I know the root of where everyone’s coming from and so I can see through their bullshit pretty quick.
ECB: Leaving aside that ‘big, bold vision,’ why do you oppose the preferred option? Is it because you think it would harm industrial businesses?
DS: I go back to [the idea that there should be] no net loss of industrial lands and while right-of-way is not private property, it is zoned as a certain type of land. It is what enables a business to or not to be functional. So Shilshole Ave. is a heavy haul corridor, meaning that it has a higher-grade concrete so that freight can move through there easily. We’re two blocks away from it right now. And the type of activity that’s happening on that right away is fairly different than the type of activity that’s happening on this road [NW Market St.]
ECB: You mentioned feeling that council member O’Brien had rushed headlong into proposing a ban on new natural gas hookups. What do you mean by that, what would you have done differently, and do you agree that we need to move away from fossil-fuel energy in the next 10 years?
DS: There is a process that was outlined at the state level, [for] when we transition from fossil fuels, that makes sure that union jobs are at the center of this transfer. That has to happen. This proposal was put forward a month or two months at most before [city] budget [discussions] started. And once budget starts, you can’t do anything other than the budget and that’s not a long enough time to bring it from the start of go to having your unions at the table to make sure that you’re centering family-wage jobs in this transition. I’d love to see the legislation pass and I’d love to see unions at the center of the conversation.