PubliCola Questions: Lorena González

Lorena González
Image via Lorena González campaign.

As PubliCola prepares to endorse candidates in the August 3 mayoral and council primary elections, we reached out to the leading candidates for mayor and City Council Position 9 with questions about homelessness, housing, police accountability, and economic recovery.

Their answers to these questions, which we’ll be sharing over the next several days, will help inform our endorsements, coming out next week. Endorsements will be based on each candidate’s record of action, public statements, interviews with PubliCola and other media outlets, and responses at the many candidate forums that have taken place over the summer.

Lorena González, the second candidate in our series, is a longtime Seattle City Council member and former civil rights attorney who says her experience as a child farmworker in Yakima has informed her impulse to fight for immigrants and workers and victims of police misconduct and discrimination.

As a council member, she led the push for a historic 2017 police accountability ordinance, then voted (along with seven of her fellow council members) for a controversial Seattle Police Officers Guild contract that nullified key aspects of the law. González has also advocated for gender pay equity, access to affordable child care, and election transparency and government accountability. If she’s elected, González says, she would end “racist, exclusionary zoning” laws, purchase or lease additional hotels for people living unsheltered, and push for interest arbitration—a process in which a state-appointed arbitrator listens to both sides and decides the terms of a contract—in negotiating the next police contract.

Here’s what González had to say in response to the eight questions PubliCola posed to every mayoral candidate.

Assuming Charter Amendment 29 becomes law in Seattle, what city programs would you cut or deprioritize in order to dedicate 12 percent of the city’s general-fund budget to human services, and how would you go about adding 2,000 new shelter or housing spots by the end of next year?

I oppose Charter Amendment 29 because it is an unfunded mandate that does not identify a sustainable progressive revenue source. I oppose cuts to essential city services and support progressive revenue measures to build more housing.

Local elected officials and candidates have often emphasized the need to revitalize downtown Seattle as the primary focus of post-COVID recovery. What is one specific action you would take in Seattle’s non-downtown neighborhoods to promote economic recovery and neighborhood vitality?

I recently wrote an op-ed highlighting the problem with of economic recovery being focused too much on downtown corporations: I have laid out a plan “Progress for All” that is focused on promoting economic recovery in all of our neighborhoods. You can read it here.

There is general consensus around the need to replace some functions of the police department with non-policing alternatives, such as civilian crisis responders. What gaps in Seattle’s non-police public safety network can be filled on the shortest timeline, and which are the most pressing priorities?

Transferring mental and behavioral health crisis response to civilian professionals is one of the most urgent needs. Sending armed officers who do not have the training to handle these situations has caused far needless death and trauma for BIPOC communities and for neuro-divergent people. Indeed, we can better address individuals’ and communities’ needs with alternative response models, while reducing the size and scope of our police department.

“I would work to expand access to bathrooms and running water. The city council appropriated $100,000 for street sinks in late 2020. These sinks still have not been built because of bureaucratic roadblocks in the Mayor’s office. This will not happen under my administration.”

Another area to address quickly is sending unarmed responders to crimes that are not in progress: Having non-sworn personnel collecting reports and encouraging more people to file complaints and reports online. This is why, as Mayor, I will look to expand our existing Community Service Officer Program. We should also be continuing to ramp up low acuity response teams like HealthOne and the Mobile Crisis Team; both similar to Eugene, Oregon’s CAHOOTS program.

According to the latest Point in Time Count of the county’s homeless population, about half the unsheltered people in King County live in their vehicles. Yet there are very few programs or resources available to vehicular residents, and little public awareness of the size and circumstances of this population. Name one action you would take to specifically address the needs of vehicular residents in Seattle.

I would work to expand access to bathrooms and running water. The city council appropriated $100,000 for street sinks in late 2020. These sinks still have not been built because of bureaucratic roadblocks in the Mayor’s office. This will not happen under my administration.

The City has pursued safe lot strategies in fits and starts over the last several years and I’m committed to finding and implementing successful and cost-effective safe lot programs to provide a decree of security, safety and sanitation for vehicular residents. The real long-term solution is to expand the supply and availability of affordable housing. Most vehicle residents are likely to be low-barrier individuals with less need for services and case work assistance. They are a good population to serve with offers of affordable housing, housing vouchers/subsidies and with connections to naturally-occurring affordable housing on the open market (if there was greater supply). You can read more about our overall plan to take action on homelessness here.

Nearly every mayoral candidate this year says they support allowing more types of housing in Seattle’s exclusionary single-family areas. As mayor, what’s the first piece of legislation you would send to the council to move toward the goal of eliminating or modifying single-family zoning?

We don’t need to re-create the wheel here as we already have the answers from experts on our City’s Planning Commission on how to open up our neighborhoods to more workers and families. This work starts by finding a new director for [the Office of Planning and Community Development] that embraces this challenge and shares my vision for inclusive neighborhoods.

“As a resident of the Junction, I want every neighborhood to be a complete neighborhood like the Junction where one can access amenities and services within 15 minutes on foot or bike/scooter/skateboard or bus.”

Together, and with Council, we will work to draft two bills as a starting point: 1) to establish “micro villages” to bridge the ‘missing middle’ between urban villages and single family/neighborhood residential zoning and open up more opportunities for housing, especially multi-family housing, and small businesses; and 2) to reduce or eliminate parking requirements to prioritize housing and public space over car storage. Both of these are necessary initial steps to shift Seattle land use and zoning policies to reflect our needs as the fastest growing city in the country, dismantle the legacy of racist redlining, and adopt climate resilient policies as a City.

It’s also important to me, as Mayor, to build the coalition needed to pass these truly citywide efforts toward greater, and more importantly, equitable and strategic density paired with anti-displacement investments to mean more neighbors, more housing options that are affordable, more vibrant neighborhoods filled with small businesses, amenities like childcare, and safe, multi-modal streets.

Equitable and strategic density means we are not replicating what we’ve done in the past where the south end bears the brunt of zoning changes, and there needs to be protections for currently affordable neighborhoods to not be the first to be re-developed or displaced. As a resident of the Junction, I want every neighborhood to be a complete neighborhood like the Junction where one can access amenities and services within 15 minutes on foot or bike/scooter/skateboard or bus. It greatly enhances the quality of life for Junction residents and this should be the case for every Seattle resident and neighborhood.

Congratulations, you’ve been elected mayor! Your first meeting is with Jeff Bezos. What do you say to him?

In the words of President Biden, it’s time for Amazon to start paying its fair share of taxes. I’m glad Amazon is here in Seattle and that they employ so many people in the region, but I want them to acknowledge that they have corporate responsibility to help ensure our economy and community provides equal opportunity to thrive in our region. Amazon needs to be a good employer: to provide living wages and safe, fair working conditions; and they shouldn’t engage in union busting activities, diminishing the rights of workers.

“Seattle is the hub of the region’s economy, jobs, transit and transportation network. If we’re successful at improving the transit infrastructure in Seattle, the entire region benefits.”

Amazon needs to acknowledge that their presence has a major impact on our housing market and has driven drastic increases in the cost of housing, pushing families and individuals out of their homes, out of Seattle, and sometimes, out of housing altogether. The regressive nature of Washington and Seattle’s tax systems has created a corporate tax haven that we can no longer endure if we are to address the urgent needs facing our City.

We can no longer continue to burden the middle class and small business with our regressive tax code, and we need additional revenue to tackle the region’s greatest challenges. Making our tax base larger and making our tax structure more progressive are critical to our region’s long-term sustainability and success, and I hope Amazon and other large corporations will acknowledge they can and should be part of the solution by paying their fair share of taxes.

What’s your top priority for Sound Transit realignment? Make your best case for this project to a fellow Sound Transit board member who wants to prioritize getting light rail to Everett.

We must not lose focus or our values in a regional, connected transit system. Everett and Seattle, and every city, must be working together towards a system that gets people out of their cars—and onto transit—as quickly as we can. This is only possible if transit IS the best option for travel or commute in meeting the needs of the millions of residents and workers within Sound Transit’s region. It will be expensive, and we have tough decisions to make over budgets and projects but we must work with urgency to keep people moving as a growing region and also because it is a necessary climate resiliency strategy.

I would prioritize transit projects where it is most needed to center moving people over projects like parking garages. Seattle is the hub of the region’s economy, jobs, transit and transportation network. If we’re successful at improving the transit infrastructure in Seattle, the entire region benefits. As an example, the construction of a new Downtown Transit Tunnel is critical to the operations of the light rail and buses in Pierce and Snohomish Counties. The entire region and light rail system will benefit when we reduce pinch points, increase efficiency and expand multimodal connections in Seattle.

When responding to people living outdoors, the city has historically focused on large or highly visible encampments, and reserved resources and enhanced shelter or hotel beds for people at encampments removed by the city. This focus on large, visible encampments tends to exclude many unhoused people of color, such as Native Americans, from access to the most desirable services. What would you do to improve equity in access to services for unsheltered people of color, particularly the Black and Native homeless populations?

As the daughter of immigrants, a woman of color, and the first Latinx person elected citywide, I know firsthand that our systems are not set up with BIPOC in mind. We have to look at all policies through a racial equity lens, and this includes our homelessness outreach and sheltering strategies. BIPOC should be doing outreach to and providing services to their own communities as much as possible, so we must invest in building capacity amongst BIPOC led organizations. And we need to ensure that our services are culturally and linguistically appropriate for our diverse community members

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