By Erica C. Barnett
Ron Davis, a tech entrepreneur and urbanist who’s running for the District 4 (northeast Seattle) city council seat being vacated by one-term Councilmember Alex Pedersen, is a first-time candidate who decided to run before he knew Pedersen was leaving his seat—spurred on, he told PubliCola, by frustration with the incumbent’s intransigence on housing, taxation, and the city budget. “Alex was a wall-builder extraordinaire—he literally uses the power of the regulatory state to keep people out of high opportunity neighborhoods,” Davis said.
Davis, who announced his candidacy on January 31, grew up in a working-class family that rose into the middle class through what he calls “almost the fairy-tale American dream,” enabling him to go to Harvard Law School school and ultimately create and sell off a software company that aimed to reduce burnout and stress for call-center employees. Since selling that company, he’s been a sales executive and consultant for tech companies, and more recently started getting involved in local politics, joining the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association, 46th District Democrats, Sound Transit’s Citizen Oversight Panel, and the boards of Futurewise and Seattle Subway, a pro-transit group.
If that seems an awful lot like the resume of someone who’s been planning to run for office for a while, Davis doesn’t disagree. “I have a lot of passion for local land use and transit, and although there area lot of levers that can be pulled at the state state level and other places, I care about my local community and I was represented by someone that made me crazy.” After talking with local political leaders, campaign consultants, and policy experts, it “became clear that that [running for council] was the best fit,” Davis said.
“The 15-minute city concept has been really abused here to justify urban villages. It’s supposed to be that every person lives in a 15-minute city, not little 15-minute neighborhoods that are stuck on arterials everyone can drive through.”
If he’s elected, Davis said, he’ll push for a more inclusive housing strategy for the city, starting with the city’s comprehensive plan, which is up for a major revision this year. The city’s decades-old “urban village” strategy, which concentrates multifamily housing along busy arterial roads while reserving most of the city’s residential land for suburban-style single-family houses, is on the table.
“The fact that all five [comprehensive plan] options still include urban villages is preposterous,” Davis said. “The 15-minute city concept”—the idea that everyone should be able to access what they need within 15 minutes without a car—”has been really abused here to justify urban villages. … It’s supposed to be that every person lives in a 15-minute city, not little 15-minute neighborhoods that are stuck on arterials everyone can drive through.”
Davis, unsurprisingly, connects density to homelessness—you can’t solve homelessness without housing, and you can’t build housing in cities where it isn’t allowed—but he also said he supports adding a lot more shelter while the region ramps up housing investments, a view that puts him in the company of both the King County Regional Homelessness Authority and Mayor Bruce Harrell.
“You can throw a million social workers at a problem—and we do need more, and they need to be paid a living wage—but at some point, if they don’t have resources to offer, they’re going to be limited in what they can do,” Davis said. “I think one of the mistakes that we on the left have made is [not acknowledging] it takes a ton of money and time to build the houses. We have to build the housing. I’m 1,000 percent for that. But … I am for intermediate solutions while we build,” like tiny houses and safe lots for people living in their vehicles, Davis said.
The city recently convened a new progressive revenue task force to come up with recommendations to increase revenues at the local level—including, potentially, for affordable housing. At the same time, Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed a statewide ballot measure to authorize $4 billion in bonds to fund thousands of new units across the state.
Davis said he supports both those efforts, but when it comes to housing for people experiencing homelessness in King County, “I would rather see a serious King County tax, so that it would be genuinely regional, and … so that various individual governments wouldn’t have an incentive to defect and hold everyone else hostage.” Currently, only King County and Seattle fund the regional homelessness authority, although four north King County cities recently voted to contribute.
Davis is currently one of three people seeking the District 4 seat—the others are socialist UW grad student Matthew Mitnick and former Teresa Mosqueda opponent Kenneth Wilson—but the race for this open position will almost certainly get more viable candidates in the months before the May filing deadline. State Rep. Gerry Pollet, who was a rumored candidate for the seat, did not respond to PubliCola’s questions last month.