Now that the primary-election field of 47 has been narrowed to a comparatively manageable 18, I’m sitting down with all the council candidates to talk about what they’ve learned so far, their campaign plans going forward, and their views on the issues that will shape the election, including density, “neighborhood character,” crime, parking, police accountability, and diversity. I’ll be rolling out all 17 of my interviews (Kshama Sawant was the only candidate who declined to sit down with me) over the next few weeks.
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Today’s interview: District 3 candidate Pamela Banks, the president of the Seattle Urban League. Banks is running against council incumbent Kshama Sawant, who refused to speak with me despite repeated requests, including an offer to provide questions in advance. Sawant did not provide any reason for refusing an interview.
Banks and I sat down at the Grean House Cafe in the Central District.
The C Is for Crank [ECB]: You’re obviously the underdog in this race against an opponent with both high name recognition and a huge constituency among young people in this district [which includes Capitol Hill]. What was your takeaway from the primary results, and what’s your strategy to win?
Pamela Banks [PB]: For me, it was where I wanted to be. I wanted her to be below 55 percent and I wanted us over 35 and we were. [Sawant won with 52.03 percent to Banks’ 34.1 percent.]
Her name recognition meant a lot in this race. As many people as I talked to in this race, a lot of people didn’t know we were going to districts, and they voted on name recognition. We had the highest turnout, though. We went from second lowest, right above Southeast Seattle, to the first. So we just have to do more education, get more people engaged in this process If African American people didn’t vote, if women didn’t vote, then we wouldn’t have Barack Obama as president. The votes are there. We just have to get them.
People feel like certain issues she has latched onto sound good in sound bites, like “tax the rich” and rent control. But a lot of the voters in this district are elderly African Americans, and they’re worried about property taxes and all these levies. No one’s talking about that. The mayor is talking about utility assistance and expanding access to that program, which is great, but we need to be talking about people who are homeowners and are worried about their property taxes.
[Sawant] is a person of color, but her campaign staff and her city staff don’t reflect much diversity. For me, it’s more about being able to connect with all the people of the district and not alienate people where they live around issues of race. Gun violence is up 32 percent in our neighborhood for African American males. There is a crisis of gun violence if you’re black. With Black Lives Matter, she’s only talked about the police needing to be investigated for how they’re treating the protesters. I don’t know that she understands the history of slavery, the Jim Crow laws, and the impacts that has had on our community. If you’re not from here and you don’t understand the history of this country…
If we’re going to talk about housing affordability, we’re going to have to talk to developers. We need to look at things that provide tenant protections, giving them more time to find a new place when an owner comes and buys a building to flip it. There should be six months notice and relocation assistance.
But I’m telling people that rent control doesn’t work. If rent control worked, San Francisco wouldn’t have the highest income inequality in the nation. We need affordable units and we need them now. Even if the city council passed a resolution saying we want the state to lift the ban on rent control, with the Republican-controlled House and Senate, that couldn’t pass quickly. It would be years. Rent control advantages people who are in those affordable units and also leads to disinvestment. Most economists say it doesn’t work. I just educate people that it doesn’t work.
ECB: If not rent control, then what’s the solution to preserve housing affordability in District 3? Do you support the HALA recommendations?
PB: In five or ten years with HALA, I don’t know that you’re going to get in all the units that we need. I’d like to see more affordable housing at Yesler Terrace. We’ve made a commitment to replace 500 units that are extremely low-income there. I would like to see what happened in the past when we’ve done this. We should look at what happened in New Holly, in High Point, in Rainier Vista, to see if we can truly get diversity into Yesler Terrace and not just extremely low-income people.
I’d like to see an analysis of what they were supposed to do. It was going to include low-income market rate rentals and homeownership. We should look at that and see how we can make Yesler Terrace more diverse. I walk a lot to meetings downtown, and when I walked through Yesler Terrace recently I was thinking, we’re going to get 591 units back [from the original Yesler Terrace, which is being torn down]. What’s going to help middle-income people get into a place like that? Are they going to build any [homes for] ownership or is it all going to be rentals? I’d like to see some of the suggestions in HALA address that.
ECB: Do you support mandatory inclusionary zoning, requiring developers to build affordable housing in exchange for upzones?
PB: I think we should go higher. I totally support doing that in the single-family zones that are on the edges of urban village, that 6 percent [that HALA proposes to convert from single-family to low-rise multifamily]—do it. If it’s going to work, we have to do that. When you go to other cities, it works. But make it scale down as you go toward single-family, so it’s not like a little mini-downtown.
ECB: Can you give an example of a mini-downtown?
PB: I look at the [Angeline] project in Columbia City and it looks little out of scale. I worked there when it was a swap meet, when that was a trade well. It was businesses in those small business districts that were willing to take that risk coming into that neighborhood.
I do believe we have to build up. As I’ve doorbelled, I’ve seen some really cool [detached accessory dwelling units] and some small duplexes and triplexes that blend in to neighborhood. It’s not what they’re doing in the CD, taking down one single-family house and replacing it with an eight-unit block of townhouses. I support that if it’s affordable, but those townhouses are $650,000 to start. I didn’t believe it when I heard it, even with $1,800 studios in Columbia City.
ECB: Crime is still a big issue in this district, and violent crime, not the property crimes people talk about in the North End. What is your strategy for reducing crime in District 3?
PB: There are too many guns in people’s hands. As of june 30, SPD had confiscated more guns than in than in the entire last year and we’re probably going to surpass 2013 and 2014 soon. The ATF is here and we don’t know why. [Last month, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms confirmed it had placed surveillance cameras all around the Central District]. What disturbed me about the cameras was that there was no public process. That’s what disturbed me, and that we don’t know what they’re looking for. We’ve got to do something different. Cameras solve crimes. They don’t prevent crimes, but they solve them. I supported cameras with a sunset date in some of the hot spots, because we are trying to address this issue in the same way over and over again and expecting a different result.
We are not going to solve crimes until we have trust. Building the community-police relationship at a granular level is huge. In the ’90s, we had captains that stayed at a precinct longer than a year or six months. Captain Pierre [Davis] at the East Precinct would be able to see where the violent crime has been but he’s no longer there. We have to have some stability at the precinct level. I haven’t seen the mobile precinct—that’s the van that goes from spot to spot—in a long time. When it’s parked, you don’t get all this craziness.
Nothing is more frustrating me than when I’m told as a citizen and a taxpayer that it’s a resource issue. We need to get more people patrolling in the community rather than [SPD] telling us the mobile van is broken, or the guy that drives it is on vacation. You don’t want to hear, “We have a resources issue.” When that van was parked in the Red Apple parking lot, at Judkins, at Powell Barnett Park, you didn’t see that kind of problem. Hot spot policing works, but only if it’s done consistently.
ECB: I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the ongoing Metro construction along 23rd Ave. How would you rate the job SDOT and Metro are doing?
PB: I personally believe the city did the worst job ever with outreach. I went to all of the community hearings that I could, and they did that to the community, not for the community. They didn’t ask us. They said, “it’s going to slow traffic, no one wants to get hit by a car,” and people in the neighborhood are like, “no one can get to us.”
Parking on the street is a privilege. The challenge is that we’re trying to build a world-class transit system in an already built environment. If people had bus service that ran every 10 or even 15 minutes, people would get out of their cars and ride the bus.
What I’d like to do is a parking survey. When you go downtown at night, there’s a lot of loading zones now from 8 at night until 8 in the morning. People aren’t going to catch transit to go to the theater and dinner—they just aren’t! We need to do a survey of loading zones. For example, around Fifth Avenue Theatre, which is where I like to go, there are loading zones right in front and all around it. It would help just do a survey. As I’ve traveled around the district and had to park, I do like that they have meters that cost more at peak. I think that encourages turnover. You can actually find parking on the street, and that’s a win for me.
Lisa Herbold, District 1