The race for District 4 — a heterogenous section of Seattle that encompasses the lakeside community of Sand Point to Wallingford by Aurora Avenue — took a turn after the primary. Of all of the candidate pairs to fulfill the narrative of a Seattle split between a lurch to the political center versus a leftward shift, perhaps none has done so more than Alex Pedersen and Shaun Scott.
Pedersen worked in the Clinton administration and spent years in the private sector as well as advising former Councilmember Tim Burgess, a centrist Democrat anywhere else, practically a Republican in Seattle. He put weight on listening to constituents, finding budget efficiencies and decrying how the current council ran roughshod over District 4.
Scott is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America who worked on the campaign of Rep. Pramila Jayapal as well as being an author, historian and — briefly — the interim editor at Real Change. He is focused on a progressive agenda that will be paid for through a redistributive politics to counteract what both see as a regressive taxation system.
Boiled down to a few words, they sound like they want the same things — affordable housing, better transit, density without displacement. Allowed the time, it’s clear they want to go about it different ways.
The following has been lightly edited for clarity.
Real Change: First off, why are you running for City Council in District 1?
Alex Pedersen: I'm running for City Council to make our city government more accountable, more accountable to our communities, more accountable for results. And I've knocked on the doors of every block in our district. There are 100,000 people in District 4. And what I hear at the doorstep is people want a City Council that's more responsive and that gets back to the basics of livability and focuses on the crisis of homelessness. And I've got a background in this area. I worked at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Clinton administration on homelessness.
I've got 15 years’ of private sector experience preserving affordable housing around the country and I'm excited to say that I'm endorsed by a wide array of people and groups. I’m endorsed by The Seattle Times, the firefighters’ union, ironworkers’ union, the plumbers’ union, environmentalists. I'm endorsed by Speaker of the House Frank Chop, endorsed by Jamie Pedersen, Javier Valdez (D-46) and Gerry Pollet (D-46).
Small businesses in the neighborhood of District 4 and want to hit the ground running if I'm elected.
RC: What does it mean to you to get back to the basics?
AP: So under the city charter there are certain things that are required of the city government and there is a $6 billion dollar budget that the city government has, as you know, and so focusing on what's required by the city charter in terms of public safety, parks, having fiscal responsibility when it comes to how we’re spending our money on an array of projects. For example, transportation projects are very expensive. We've seen a lot of them go over budget. And so we want to make sure we're spending the money wisely so that we can we can help more people.
The more prudently we spend the money, the more sidewalks and crosswalks we can have, for example. The more prudently we spend the money, the more people we can exit from homelessness to permanent supportive housing. And so, we see the City Council now introducing resolutions on very lofty topics. Sometimes it's international relations, it's something that doesn't have to do with the state of Washington or the city of Seattle and I think that the council members should really be focusing on the most basic priorities and listening to the residents.
So, again homelessness is the number one issue.
But when you look at the council members, how they spend their time, they're not spending the majority of their time trying to reduce homelessness, which is what I think they should do.
RC: Would you have run if Rob Johnson had stayed in the race?
AP: Yes. I think that there was a in District 4 — which is Eastlake, Wallingford but lots of Northeast Seattle, 100,000 people — there was a lot of there was a sort of a mismatch between I think between his talents and what's required out of a district council member to answer emails of the constituents, to meet people where they are in the neighborhood and incorporate their ideas into policymaking instead of coming in with a preconceived notion and then ramming that through.
So I think it was just not a great fit for that particular position.
And so I used to work for a city council member and one of my jobs was to do the constituent services, to answer the e-mails, to go to community meetings. I also published a neighborhood newsletter for five years that basically focused on Northeast Seattle and so I was familiar with the community groups and what was going on in the neighborhoods. I feel like that I'm in better touch, and certainly walking every block in the district just since December when I started campaigning I think I'm really in touch with folks in that district and would be able to represent them, according to what's required of a district council member.
RC: The framing that I've seen is “progressive candidate versus business candidate. How do you see this election, and what are voters choosing between when they choose between you and your opponent?
AP: My progressive credentials go back decades. Like I said, I worked for the Clinton administration and. the endorsements I have 46th legislative district Democrats, from Javier Valdez, I'm endorsed by Nick Licata, Gerry Pollet. So I think “progressive movement” is a term that is used differently by different people based on what's in their own mind, and I think that this campaign is really about experience relevant to local government and the position of a district council member. I feel like I'm the most qualified person for the position because I've got extensive experience in local government and federal government that's relevant to cities.
So having worked at the Department of Housing and Urban Development it's a perfect match for somebody who wants to be city government.
And so for me it's about experience to get those results. I feel like there is a lack of trust between people in the city government and a lot of that is because of the lack of responsiveness and the lack of results. And so by bringing the experience to get the results my community connections to be responsive, I feel like that's what folks are looking for and that's why I did finish in first place in the primary.
RC: Well you mentioned you know the lack of responsiveness. What would you do differently?
AP: So I would be in the district a lot.
So for me the default is I'm in the district, I'm meeting with constituents, I'm solving problems that they're bringing up, I’m responding to them and what their ideas and concerns and needs are — those 100,000 people — and spending less time downtown. Also, because I've spent so much time in that community in this district, I feel like I can hit the ground running. I’m already in touch with how people are feeling right now. So I'm able to respond because I've already been listening to them so carefully over the last year.
And getting more input from them, from constituents, when policies are being crafted and not just meeting with VIPs and lobbyists downtown, but actually what do my constituents want.
RC: You have a lot of history as Tim Burgess’ legislative aide. Anywhere else, Burgess would be considered a solid Democrat, but in Seattle he was the more conservative voice on the council. Should voters expect the same from you?
AP: The key difference is that I will be a district council person so I'm going to be very responsive to what people in my district want. And I think they want a problem solver. It’s not the political spectrum that they care about, it's we want to solve problems. We want to see homelessness reduced.
So no matter where they're coming from on the issue of homelessness, the unity is about solving the problem. And that's what I want to be, is a problem solver and somebody who takes into account different viewpoints and helps to harmonize them to solve the problems.
RC: So you're backed by two or three, actually, well-funded political action committees. How do you feel about outside money and politics and what is your opinion on them throwing their weight behind you?
AP: I think that the candidates can speak for themselves. I think that so much spending by outside groups is not helpful, it's unnecessary, it minimizes the hard work that the candidates are doing when they're door belling and organizing and communicating to voters.
I would hope that they don't have a material presence in the general election.
Referring to the tactics I think that it's unfortunate that some of their pieces were negative. I think there's no place for negative attacks. Those should be rejected. I think voters are smart. I think voters know that when there is a negative piece that it's not to be believed and that they're going to focus on people's experience and their results and what they are going to bring to the job of a district council member.
RC: Do you support Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez’ proposal to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to limit contributions to independent expenditure campaigns to $5,000?
AP: Yes, I do I look forward to the Seattle Ethics and Election Commission's additional research on that to make to make sure it would pass legal muster, but I absolutely support the concept and I'm glad that she brought it up. In fact, I called her office to say, “Thank you for this, I think this is a great idea.”
RC: What do you see as the key issues that are unique to District 4, and how you plan to address them?
AP: I think with District Four the main issue is the lack of trust between residents and the city government. A lot of policy, big policies, land use policies for example, were rolled out and people went to these community meetings and they gave their input and it was ignored by the policymakers.
And I think that that's not good when people distrust the government because we have lots of work to do and as a progressive Democrat, the business model is that government should be trusted to ask for tax dollars and then deploy those tax dollars in the most effective manner to solve problems. And if there's not trust there that it's harder to do that.
And so my first job is to rebuild that trust by showing people that I am incorporating their concerns and ideas into legislation and that I am spending more time in that community caring about what's going on in their block or their neighborhood. So, District 4, the City Council ran roughshod over them more than other districts. So that's important to rebuild that trust first.
RC: How so. How did they run roughshod over District 4?
AP: So for example there were several land use changes that occur District 4 sort of ground zero for some of the upzones.
And it's important to increase housing density near frequent and reliable transit. But the details matter, so you need to make sure that you're not displacing, you're not demolishing naturally occurring affordable housing, you're not displacing vulnerable small businesses, that if neighbors want to have input on set backs and heights and things, if it's reasonable, accommodations should be should be made to show that hey, this is their neighborhood today and we're proposing a big change.
So we need to be sensitive to what their ideas and thoughts are. A lot of people wanted to actually see more affordable housing built and they wanted to see it built in their neighborhood. However, the affordable housing requirements were set at a very low percentage. I think people wanted to see that percentage higher.
So when the when the land use changes when the land use legislation was pushed forward and pushed through almost none of the input was taken into account to modify the legislation.
RC: What does that look like, taking that input into account, because it's a very small subset of people that show up to council meetings to do public comment and or write to council? How do you plan to take the popular opinion of District 4 and implement it?
AP: Well in the case of the land use stuff there were lots of meetings in the community and there was good attendance for those. I think that is part of the challenge actually is people who show up at City Council meetings are often paid lobbyists or people who aren’t trying to get their kids to childcare and get to their jobs or whatever. They're that they're able to show up, they have the time. I think the challenge for the council members in the districts is to how do you even find what the popular the majority opinion is?
And in the case of the upzones, there were lots of meetings in the community. People showed up and you know the city government told them we'll put a sticker here for how you want to see this or that. And then it wasn't clear how that input was ever used. I think if you've got people taking their precious time and coming to a community meeting you really need to listen to them and incorporate their ideas and that that wasn't done in the case of these. These major policy changes.
RC: What do you want to prioritize first and how are you going to get a potentially new suite of colleagues and the current mayor on board for?
AP: I think the priorities would be reducing homelessness. And so for me that you know there's been there was so much good work done during the Obama administration in terms of tracking programs in cities across the country and what's effective what's not effective.
I'm focusing on making sure we're funding programs proven to work and making sure the rest of the city budget, if there are savings that we can find in the rest of the city budget, $6 billion all funds budget moving those funds to help reduce homelessness.
So programs proven to work, see if there are savings elsewhere in the budget and redirect those to the priority of homelessness and work on the implementing the regional action plan that Mayor [Jenny] Durkan is working on with King County Executive [Dow] Constantine and making sure that moves forward and it goes smoothly and nonprofits that want to adopt best practices, providing that technical assistance and capacity building to them so they can adopt those as part of their portfolio of what they offer. That's that to me is the priority.
In terms of the other colleagues. I consider myself pragmatic and I think we'll have some other pragmatists who are elected and I look forward to working closely with them too. Because we'll just come fresh out of our districts in terms of listening to what people want and prioritizing and finding common ground with those new council members and the existing ones. To me it's about finding common ground because then we have limited amounts of time and resources to get things done.
So if we focus on the things where there's common ground we're likely able to get more done and be more collaborative.
RC: Funding is always a critical issue in a place with progressive revenue options. How do you find your policy priorities?
AP: So I having worked in city government and worked on the budgets — when I worked for Burgess he was chair of the Budget Committee — I believe that there that we can help the city departments find efficiencies and cost savings. And I think that we want to start there.
And if we there's not enough revenue there, then we can explore other options. I'm really hoping the state government will actually step up and make the statewide tax system more progressive. We’ve got the most regressive state tax system, and so making it more progressive at the state level I think is the best path.
So while hopefully the state government's taking care of that we're trying to find money in the existing $6 billion budget to redirect toward priorities and best practices and then then we can we can revisit the whole question if it turns out we do need more money and the it turned out we couldn't find enough money within the existing city budgets. [If] the state government doesn't perform then you know that's if we have a regional action plan in place and we have the systems in place where the private sector will feel confident that every dollar that they contribute will be used effectively then then there's time for that conversation later.
RC: Would you have voted for the [Employee Hour’s] tax?
AP: No I felt that there were several challenges with the head tax. I understand how it came to be. It's a logical evolution from the lack of choices that council members have. And they were trying to deal with the crisis. And but I feel that there wasn't a solid enough plan on how the funding would be used and how the outcomes would be tracked and that there wasn't enough engagement with the business community. They were invited to the table, but it seemed like there was already a predetermined outcome to have this type of tax.
And when I bring people to the table, I want to try not to have a predetermined outcome but to be open to what all the options are.
And I also think that you know when the city goes alone on certain taxes — especially at a tax like that which is based on employee hours — I think it would potentially create problems with companies not wanting to stick around.
And I think the business community, there are different schools of thought on this, but I think the business community does have a legitimate concern that they feel that City Council dumps a lot of stuff on them regulations and things without consulting them properly in terms of how they would implement them and give them enough time to adjust.
RC: So the economy is showing signs of weakness. It's the first time in my memory that the lay layperson knows what an inverted yield curve is. We have seen the international economy also showing a bit shaky. If we get hit with another recession how are you going to protect Seattleites in District 4?
AP: I think that's that highlights the urgency of getting our fiscal house in order now and that's why scrubbing the city budget for efficiencies now is really important. And I would I think start with, if there is a recession making sure we're prioritizing the most effective human services so that we continue to reduce homelessness and prioritize public safety which is one of the key requirements of the city charter.
And I think that's what we think we learned a lot during the Great Recession where that is what the council did they prioritize public safety and human services if they ended up having to cut from the budget. But if we get our fiscal house in order now I think we'll be in a better position if a recession hits that we're using the money as efficiently as possible today.
RC: How do you plan to tackle housing for affordability?
AP: Sure. Well my background is in affordable housing, having worked at HUD and in the private sector preserving affordable housing around the country. The first thing we need to do is stop knocking down affordable housing, because we're seeing a lot of it being removed from the housing stock, older apartments and even older single family home rentals that are rented to families in in the district are being knocked down and replaced by stuff that's more expensive than what they just knocked down.
So that's number one.
I like to view you know affordability is a big picture, so like looking at utility bills, for example, trying to trying to stem the increase of utility bills. We've seen Seattle City Light bills go up a lot, Seattle Public Utility bills go up a lot. We’re the city government in charge of those two entities and those are essentially regressive fees that are paid. So, I think we need to be careful trying to lessen the increase of utility bills.
In terms of affordable housing, there's the public housing, extremely low and low-income housing and then through moving up to workforce housing. And I think that there's a lot of stuff that's in the pipeline that's coming that's going to be helpful.
So I was on the task force that doubled the Seattle Housing Levy for low-income housing and the city government recently passed the upzones of 25 communities as well as the urban centers that we have such as the new University District upzone. And so there's going to be more housing built because of that.
And then right now we're benefiting from and from an episode that I worked on in 2013 in downtown and South Lake Union we're collecting millions of dollars now from the upzone and I worked on there and that's being used to build affordable housing now, but coming down the pike will be the mandatory housing affordability fees.
Unfortunately, most developers are paying the fee which is only about a third of the cost to build a unit rather than build the affordable housing on site, because then you have economic integration and it's built now.
Instead they're writing a check it goes to the Office of Housing and the Office of Housing waits to deploy it to nonprofits who are trying to assemble money and they might build it three miles away from where they generated the fee. So, you're looking at the data to see are these policies that were enacted presumably for affordable housing, are they working?
And if not, tweaking them so they generate more affordable housing.
RC: Do you support the upzone on the Ave, and what is your take on single family zoning?
AP: I do not support upzoning the Ave. Most of the district was already upzoned. I think the Ave is unique. It's historic.
I'm concerned that in certain cases it creates economic disruption.
If a developer is incentivized by the Ave upzone and they tear down the building and then what happens to Bulldog News, what happens to Big Time Brewery or Gargoyle Statuary? They get displaced until something is built and then the newly constructed building, the investors have to pay off their construction loan and its new construction so they can charge more for that space. And guess what. Bulldog News and these other places can't afford that right, the rental rate reset to the market today. And so I don't want to create any more disruption.
There. So I oppose the upzone of the Ave.
Single family neighborhoods. There are a lot of rentals in single family neighborhoods right now.
There are there are homes that are rented which usually accommodate larger households, families, and there's older housing stock which is naturally affordable. There are senior citizens that live in these homes and are trying to stay in their homes. I don't like the idea of sort of one-size-fits-all, blanket, top down approach to zoning. I think it should be done strategically near transit frequent, reliable transit. I’m very much in favor of encouraging a developer to, let's say, assemble four parcels and build an apartment building for a low income housing.
That's great. But a blanket up zone is basically saying that City Council trusts the private market to somehow solve the housing problem by giving away some sort of public benefit to the developer. I think that we need to be more strategic about where we put the upzones.
RC: So youth homelessness is down in the county but it is highly concentrated in the university district. At the same time there are shelters and services that target youth and tried to serve them in that district that are being forced out. How do you help those nonprofits? How do you help those homeless children?
AP: I think first trying not to throw fuel on the fire. I think I think it's a cautionary tale. What's happened in the U District where there's an upzone so it does cause disruption and I don't think the City Council put in place mitigants beforehand.
So before an upzone happens, that's when you should put in the requirements to replace affordable housing that's knocked down. Before the upzone is when you should put in help for small businesses and nonprofits that are renting.
RC: I'm sorry if I'm incorrect here — that upzone hasn't happened yet. Wasn't that area carved out? thought it had been set aside.
AP: The Ave was set aside. Whether right behind the Ave in the alley? Yeah. It could be the anticipation of the upzone. The City Council's made it clear they want to upzone that area. That's enough to cause disruption. So, in terms of helping those nonprofits, meeting with them and giving them options in terms of helping them find other space. Can they join with other nonprofits that are doing the same work in the area?
For example, Youthcare is providing help for homeless youth. I actually volunteered at Youthcare for a few years. Helping if they need financial help, you know, if it's a one-time help to get on their feet, get back somewhere else, put a deposit down or something like that. So, meeting with them and solving the problem.
RC: What is your policy on homeless encampment sweeps?
AP: First I think the approach has to be starting with compassion with the positive outcome in mind. So that is the goal. Housing first, getting people into housing and so they can work on whatever challenges they have. We can provide services once they're in a permanent place of housing. Starting with those parameters in mind. Also, camping anywhere is not productive or compassionate to just allow camping anywhere. I think that it's not helpful to have people camping in parks. It’s dangerous to be on the side of highways.
Deemphasizing the police officers’ role in the Navigation Team and raising up the profile of a social service worker who is trying to do an assessment and link somebody that housing and services, that's important. But the Navigation Team concept of going out and engaging people where they are, I think that's important to offer the housing and services and then but after 72 hours I think that you shouldn't you just shouldn't be allowed to camp anywhere.
I think that the more times a Navigation Team goes out the better to build rapport and to discuss more thoroughly what's available is important. Part of the problem [is] the Navigation Team is stretched too thin.
So they might make contact once with an encampment and then you know in conjunction with a 72-hour notice but is not able to go back out during those 72 hours. But If they went out to three more times that would help to get more people into housing.
RC: How do you plan to improve transportation and road safety in your district?
AP: District 4 is special because we're going to have two more light rail stations opening up and when I talk to people throughout the district who are not close to a station, they say, “I want to ride a light rail, but how do I get there easily?”
It's kind of like when recycling started 20 years ago and people were asked to separate everything and put your newspaper in twine and deliver your bottles — your green bottles over here and your brown bottles over here.
But local government needs to make it easier for people to get to transit and give them incentives to do that, positive incentives. Just guilting people to get out their car is not effective. I know people want to ride.
So I'm a big proponent of looking at what other cities have done and then adopting that so we're not reinventing the wheel or spinning our wheels. In this case, the first-last mile has not been solved. This is District 4, we'll have three light rail stations. Perfect place to pilot different options for getting people to light rail. So in South Seattle as you may know King County is experimenting with this ride service called Via.
It's kind of like subsidized Uber Lyft situation. And so good try that. We could try shuttle vans, we could try carpooling, we could try a better pedestrian pathways — getting to Husky Stadium light rail station it's really difficult for people coming from from Bryant and Laurelhurst for example.
So experimenting with these pilot projects, looking at the data, finding what works the best and then replicating that for what's best to get the most people to ride light rail.
I support renewing the Seattle bus tax, though I look forward to working — if I'm elected — with King County Metro to refine some of the routes that have been cut. There was a lot of there were a lot of bus routes that were cut. As people were paying more for bus service, the routes were cut. Part of it was to try to get more people to light rail.
But you have you have people you have senior citizens, people with mobility challenges who now have to transfer and walk a quarter mile to transfer to the light rail. So King County Metro is Sound Transit need to work together. I look forward to helping harmonize that for additional bus service. In terms of roads, I really would like to expand the number crosswalks. We have focus on pedestrian safety.
RC: How do you feel about the 35th Avenue bike lane? That is like the third rail and transportation right now.
AP: I think that was a good lesson in what happens when you when you don't engage with an impacted community on something. I think from start to finish it was it was it was a mess, and I think that district council members need to make sure stuff like that does not happen in their district by being in touch with their constituents, by giving them a big heads up on what's going on, by gathering their input.
I support the compromise that Mayor Jenny Durkan worked out when she finally stepped in and the I do support an interconnected bike network. I feel that often that can be accommodated by greenways on the side streets and in a lot of cases.
RC: Work around the consent decree is moving slowly and the policing union contract seems to be a stumbling block. The mayor recently said that police accountability remedy should wait until the next union contract. What's your what's your opinion on that, and how would you handle the situation in office?
AP: Sure public safety is paramount priority of city government and everybody needs to feel safe.
Everybody deserves to feel safe for their community. And. I feel that the police department has come a long way with the reforms. According to the judge. Judge Robart and Mayor Durkan obviously is committed to those reforms because she helped to create the consent decree.
The most recent problem that's occurred needs to be fixed, and I think regarding the allegations of police misconduct that the system used to investigate those needs to be fair and transparent. I think the policymakers need to start negotiating now with the police union. Realistically, because it took so long to get the current contract in place, if they start today they're not going to get it done until December 2020 anyway which is when the contract expires. Yes it's a problem. Get started right away to fix it. It's going to take until this contract expires to fix it I believe.
But they should get started right away.
RC: What is your favorite place in the District 4?
AP: Well I wanted to say something like wherever my family is.
RC: I mean, you can interpret it anyway you want. That's what's really been tripping people up I think is how open ended it is.
AP: So wherever my family is and if they're not there then Third Place Books on 65th Street. Yes.
RELATED ARTICLE: Vying for Votes: City Council District 4 candidate Shaun Scott
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Lisa on Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
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