The crowded race to replace City Council veteran Lisa Herbold in District 1 (which now includes Pioneer Square and Georgetown along with all of West Seattle) features two candidates from the tech world, a bagel store owner who got in hot water with the city’s ethics commission for offering free bagels to district residents, and a three-time candidate who received a tortured endorsement from the Seattle Times in 2019. (They called him “articulate” and “an attorney.”)
From this decidedly mixed bag, PubliCola picks Maren Costa, a former Amazon user experience designer who founded Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, where her organizing helped lead to Amazon’s “climate pledge” to reduce the company’s net emissions to zero by 2040. In 2020, she was fired after circulating a petition on behalf of warehouse workers organizing for better workplace conditions. Although she hasn’t worked directly on city issues, we believe Costa will be a fast learner with progressive but pragmatic instincts, much like Herbold.
Taking up one of Seattle’s most politicized issues—police funding—Costa has said she wants to “make Seattle the best place in the world to be a police officer” and supports increasing the size of the police force to 1,400 officers. However, in a nod to ongoing efforts to take some responsibilities out of armed officers’ hands, she has also supported standing up civilian crisis response teams that could, in the long run, reduce the need for police. (At a recent forum, she held up a sign at a forum indicating she didn’t believe the city council’s 2020 commitment to reduce police spending by half was “a mistake,” a photo op that will undoubtedly come back to bite her if she makes it through the primary).
Costa supports “upzoning almost everywhere” and pursuing a sixth Seattle Comprehensive Plan alternative that would dramatically increase the maximum allowed density in all neighborhoods—an unusually bold pro-housing move for a candidate in West Seattle, which has long been an epicenter of the battle between anti-growth homeowners and urbanists.
We’re glad to see Costa highlight the need for short-term funding to implement last year’s social housing ballot measure, which split the district along class and racial lines. She’s pinpointed the growing need for affordable housing in this rapidly gentrifying district, proposing that the city impose a vacancy tax on homes that sit idle more than half the year. Although vacancy taxes have mixed results in practice—in Vancouver, B.C., where many apartments are owned by foreign investors, the tax produced significant revenue but does not seem to have lowered rents—the idea is worth exploring, especially at a time when forecasts suggest the city will have to make drastic cuts if it doesn’t find new sources of (ideally progressive) revenue. Costa also wants to consider “turning up the dials” on the JumpStart tax, which funds affordable housing, and looking at options for a local capital gains carbon tax.
As a more immediate, practical proposal, Costa proposes providing direct subsidies to help tenants at risk of eviction pay their rent—an idea also championed by District 3 candidate Alex Hudson—and investing heavily in tiny houses to help reduce the number of “highly established” encampments where crime and predatory behavior are common. She also supports “upzoning almost everywhere” and pursuing a sixth Seattle Comprehensive Plan alternative that would dramatically increase the maximum allowed density in all neighborhoods—an unusually bold pro-housing move for a candidate in West Seattle, which has long been an epicenter of the battle between anti-growth homeowners and urbanists.
The other frontrunner in this race is Rob Saka, a Meta attorney who has a compelling life story (he spent the first nine years of his life in and out of foster care and was raised by a working-class, single dad), but has proven almost impossible to pin down on any issue. Comparing our conversation with Saka in February to his many interviews and public appearances since, we’re hard-pressed to find an instance where he has veered from generic, vaguely centrist talking points, which include “building a ton of affordable housing”; hiring “good, honest police”; removing encampments to ensure parks are clean and “open”; and using arrests as a tool to ensure that drug users “have the the support and treatment services they need.”
When pressed for specifics, Saka tends to change the subject or obfuscate. For example: At a recent forum, candidates were asked whether Sound Transit should scrap its plans to build light rail to West Seattle. Saka’s non-response: “I think we actually need to expand our flexible transit options. Keyword: Options. We should not seek to impose transit or anything onto people. And so, yes, we need to expand our transit options and expand biking options and also create space for people to travel in cars if they so need and choose.”
In this race, where every candidate faces a steep learning curve, we’d rather vote for an independent-minded candidate willing to take big policy swings than an equivocator who answers yes/no questions with “all of the above.” For District 1, PubliCola picks Maren Costa.
PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.