District 5—far North Seattle—includes some of the wealthiest, most homogenous single-family neighborhoods in the city along with areas, like Lake City, that are dense, diverse immigrant hubs. Politically, the district tends to favor centrist candidates like incumbent Debora Juarez, a moderate who has supported punitive responses to encampments and drug use and was the target of protests when she opposed efforts to reduce police funding by 50 percent in 2020.
That’s all preface to say that neither of the top two candidates in this race—Nilu Jenks and Cathy Moore—set PubliCola’s progressive heart aflame.
A third candidate, equity consultant Christiana Obeysumner, would bring her own lived experience and long resume as a housing navigator, clinical support specialist, and equity consultant to the job of addressing homelessness. When we spoke with Obeysumner, she demonstrated a detailed understanding of what it will take to house thousands of people experiencing different kinds of homelessness, from people with addiction and other disabilities to those who are couch-surfing or living in motels; she is also an impassioned advocate for the rights of sex workers.
For District 5, PubliCola picks Nilu Jenks—a climate and pedestrian safety advocate who we believe will take a thoughtful, nuanced approach to headline-grabbing issues, like police hiring and public drug use, while fighting for safe streets, climate resiliency hubs, and expanded access to shelter.
Like every candidate, Jenks came to our interview prepared to answer questions about police hiring and homelessness. (For the record, she thinks the goal of 1,400 officers is unrealistic, supports civilian alternatives to police for crisis calls, and thinks the city should establish a right to shelter.) But what really got her animated was talking about how Seattle needs to change over the coming decades to accommodate the thousands of people who will move here, many of them “climate refugees” from other parts of the country.
“Every other major city has sidewalks,” she said. “Why can’t we figure this out?”
The best way to respond to this growth, Jenks told us, is to plan for it now, by turning underdeveloped parts of the city—like the area around the future 130th Street light rail station—into dense, appealing neighborhoods. That means increasing height limits, planting trees, widening sidewalks, and slowing traffic so that people can cross the street without risking their lives.
Acknowledging that sidewalks are expensive, Jenks said she would start with areas that have the highest fatality rate, like Aurora Ave. N just south of Shoreline., neighborhoods with large immigrant and BIPOC populations, and areas that lack even one safe route for kids to walk to school. “Every other major city has sidewalks,” she said. “Why can’t we figure this out?”
Jenks also impressed us with her creative, district-level approach to achieving the city’s climate goals. One of her first priorities, Jenks said, would be establishing a climate resilience hub in North Seattle, which would serve as both a community center and a place where people could escape from increasingly severe weather caused by climate change. The city will open its first resilience hub in Beacon Hill, but Jenks says the north end—whose obsolete Lake City Community Center closed in April after a fire—would benefit from a new community center that doubles as a refuge from smoky summers.
She has also proposed providing free heat pumps—a cleaner source of central heating and cooling—to landlords who agree to limit rent increases, along with a right to shelter that would include locations where people could escape summer heat and wildfire smoke during the day.
To pay for some of these priorities, Jenks said she would propose a land-value tax—a tax on the value of a piece of property, regardless of what’s on it—because it would encourage property owners to maximize their land use (housing instead of empty parking lots) and would be more stable than a tax on vacant properties, which is designed to reduce vacancies.
Cathy Moore, a retired judge and former public defender, offered some intriguing ideas during our interview—for example, she said she would oppose any contract for police officers that did not include the same concessions made by the Seattle Police Management Association last year, including a reduced standard of proof for police misconduct and new restrictions on arbitrators, who frequently reverse disciplinary decisions. But on most issues, from density (she supports the outdated urban village strategy) to police funding (she wants more of it), her views tracked closely with the council’s most conservative members, Alex Pedersen and Sara Nelson, and the Harrell Administration.
For District 5, PubliCola picks Nilu Jenks.
PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.